It will take a few more weeks of scraping off mud,
squeegeeing out water and trailing power trucks before operators throughout the Caribbean
and the U.S. Gulf Coast will know the true dollar volume that was lost to Hurricane
But system managers in the trenches across the region
sighed last week and offered the same assessment: "It could have been worse."
Communications were still spotty last week to the mainland
community that was hit hardest: Pascagoula, Miss. Georges stalled over Biloxi, placing
Pascagoula in the most damaging, northwest quadrant of the storm, where it was hammered
Residents weren't even allowed back into the area
until last Tuesday, and the general manager was reportedly still doing drive-throughs as
of last Thursday.
Ironically, if the storm had occurred six weeks ago, Marcus
Cable would be dealing with the recovery headache. But Cable One acquired the system,
which is now part of its largest cluster, totaling 95,000 subscribers and including most
of the communities on the Gulf Coast.
"I've lost track of all of my hurricanes,"
said John Humphries, Cable One's Biloxi general manager, who has been on the job
since 1964. Hurricane Camille destroyed the newly built system, so Georges can't
match up, he added.
About 2,000 of the system's 34,000 drops succumbed to
the winds and, at the time of his midweek interview, Humphries predicted that 90 percent
of his system would come back up when power was fully restored by the first weekend in
Technical tests proved that the fiber optics were intact,
Humphries said he was impressed by the squad of engineers,
led by company vice president Tommy Hill, who descended as soon as the evacuation was
Cable One president Tom Might added that the MSO dispatched
about 30 bucket crews from company properties within 500 miles of the damaged area to
assist with recovery.
But he was rueful about the situation. Cable One's
properties are clustered in the tornado-ravaged Midwest and the hurricane-blown South.
"The joke in the company is that we should just go ahead and change the name to
'Hurricane Cable,'" Might said, without laughing.
Century Communications Corp. and Tele-Communications Inc.
were also hard-hit in Puerto Rico. Francisco Tosta, Century's vice president and
general manager there, said only 40 percent of the plant was hot as of last Tuesday,
almost one week after Georges hit the Caribbean island. Century serves 125,000 homes in
urban San Juan.
The company lost 10 percent of its plant to Hurricane Hugo
in 1989, and the power outages are so severe in Puerto Rico that the executive is still
determining whether the damage from Georges is worse.
None of his 300 employees was killed or badly injured, but
the island infrastructure has been so decimated that some workers are "still dealing
with their own issues," and they haven't returned to work, he said. That will
At TCI in the San Juan suburbs, executives estimated that
one-third of its drops, or 30,000 of the 110,000 homes served by the system, have been
blown away, along with 100 miles of hybrid fiber-coaxial plant. Virtually all of the 330
employees suffered some damage to their property, with 16 workers losing their homes.
TCI's corporate office has put out a request to employees to contribute to a relief
Some businesses felt sufficiently threatened by Georges to
kick into contingency mode. Early projections indicated that the storm would blast through
southern Florida, so officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for communities
including Fort Lauderdale, Home Shopping Network's base of operations.
The programmer dispatched four hosts and a 12-person
production team to a backup production site in Atlanta, where they continued live
programming from midnight Saturday, Sept. 26, through noon of the next day. Sales and
service were relocated to Miami during the crisis.