Cable Cranks Up Katrina Relief Efforts


Companies are beginning to get their relief programs in place to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, including The Walt Disney Co., which has announced a $2.5 million donation for children’s charities and relief centers, as well as a $1 million immediate donation to the American Red Cross.

Cable companies in the storm’s path say it may be months before the businesses can assess the full impact. Cable One Inc., which runs the systems in hard-hit Biloxi, Gulfport and Pascagoula, Miss., still has offices standing in two of those communities, but officials have no idea when they will be able to get into town to begin relief efforts.

A crisis team has been assembled in Phoenix and will charter a plane as soon as feasible to deliver payroll and supplies to employees, a spokeswoman said.

Ray Kistler, the general manager of Comcast Corp. in Mobile, Ala., say he’s doing most of his communicating by BlackBerry and cell phone. He marveled that 95% of his employees showed up for work on Tuesday. To speed damage assessment, CSRs were dispatched in trucks to write up damage notes for technicians, he said.

Damage assessment may be hardest in New Orleans, where it may be months before officials can alleviate flooding caused by the broken levies that hold back Lake Ponchartrain. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a former Cox Communications Inc. executive, estimated at a televised press conference Wednesday that the death toll from the storm and subsequent flooding may be in the thousands in the city and surrounding parish.

His former system, Cox New Orleans, survived the initial storm but flood waters now have all services off-line, said Cox spokesman David Grabert. The bigger concern is that the company has been unable to account for all 1,000 New Orleans employees.

Cox has posted information on its Web site and is publicizing in the region a number where employees can call to disclose their current locations. Cox wants its employees to get their pay this Friday, Grabert said.

It may be weeks before the company can return to the city to assess infrastructure damage. Meanwhile, many New Orleans employees have relocated to Baton Rouge to help that system restore services.

One-third of phone customers in Baton Rouge are still without service, and less than half of homes have working Internet service.

Full restoration may take as long as two weeks, Grabert estimated.