Phones Mostly Out Around New Orleans Area

Storm hampers long-distance, cell services

by Anick Jesdanun / Associated Press

Cell phone service was spotty and long-distance callers met busy signals on Monday as Hurricane Katrina knocked out key telecommunications hubs along the Gulf Coast.

Most long-distance and cellular providers reported trouble, while the dominant local phone provider for the hurricane zone, BellSouth Corp., did not immediately quantify the extent of storm-related service disruptions.

Sprint Nextel Corp.'s long-distance switch in New Orleans failed soon after the storm hit, meaning no long distance call could be placed into or out of the area, said company spokesman Charles Fleckenstein. Customers who tried got busy signals or recordings informing them that all circuits are busy, he said.

He attributed troubles to flooding and power loss.

Many of AT&T Corp.'s facilities in the area were operating on backup generator power but some were completely down, likely because of flooding. Long-distance calls could not be properly relayed along AT&T's Gulf Coast fiber-optics routes.

AT&T's traffic-management software was able to reroute some calls when spare capacity existed elsewhere, but spokesman Jim Byrnes said thousands of calls still were failing to get through.

The company said Internet data networks were operating fine.

MCI Inc. spokeswoman Linda Laughlin said one fiber cable east of New Orleans was cut and other facilities had "some water issues." But she said customers faced at most a few seconds' delay as MCI rerouted calls to other cables.

There were no reports of the storm knocking down any cell phone towers, but many stopped working because of power problems.

Many of Sprint's cell towers in the New Orleans area switched to batteries or generators but could not be recharged because crews could not reach them, Fleckenstein said. Some towers stopped working completely by early afternoon, and many more were expected to fail as power loss continues, he said.

Cellular provider Cingular Wireless also reported service interruptions in the coastal communities of Mobile and Baldwin, Ala., because of power outages. Cingular also had problems in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, La., and Biloxi, Miss.

In Florida, about 46,000 BellSouth Corp. phone lines remained out of service, representing less than 2 percent of lines in the affected counties. The company said its crews already restored service to nearly 356,000 lines since the storm hit Florida late last week.

BellSouth officials did not return calls for comment on service outside Florida, nor did Verizon Wireless officials on the status of their cell towers and services.

Telecommunications companies generally had crews, supplies and parts on standby to restore facilities and services once emergency officials clear them.

Cingular said it had distributed more than 500 emergency generators, placed 240,000 gallons of fuel in them or on standby and had 25 teams ready to deploy to replace and refuel the generators once conditions are safe.

Also reporting were AP Business Writer Bruce Meyerson in New York and AP Writer Phillip Rawls in Montgomery, Ala.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: has been doing a _tremendous_ job covering the situation in New Orleans for the past 36 hours. You can watch the storm and the television coverage of same on computer at
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. I've had it on my computer almost continually since Sunday evening, when it was still in the 'talking stages'. WWL- TV and radio gave announcements quite promptly regards evacuations, etc. Sometime around two or three Monday morning, I think even their power went out for awhile. I know when I woke up Monday morning and tuned back in to it, they were not in their own studios any longer but some station in Houston had taken over the coverage for WWL and doing it by cellular phone with authorities in New Orleans. Later I heard WWL say they moved into their auxilliary facility on the campus of Tulane University. But while they were working out of the television station in Houston, the cellular phone connection was just horrible, and the connection was lost frequently. There was no video at that moment, just audio from the staff in New Orleans and the Houston people were running visuals from the weather service. Those people surely have put in a hard day's work reporting the storm. PAT]

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Anick Jesdanun
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