Wilma Recovery Depends on Power

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Cable companies that still hadn’t completely cleaned up from the Florida landfall by Hurricane Katrina were hit again, this time from the west, by Hurricane Wilma Oct. 17.

Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Corp. were again victimized and operations were still in disarray. Part of that was attributable to the systems' own plant damage, but power restoration is always a major issue in the aftermath of a hurricane.

In the wake of Wilma’s passing, it was estimated at one point that only 2% of south Florida residents had electricity.

“Power is the biggest issue. [Until it’s restored], it’s a huge detriment to anything we can do,” said Reg Griffin, regional spokesman for Comcast. That included communications: Griffin, based in Atlanta, had trouble keeping in touch with the south Florida team.

Damage was suffered to plant from the Naples and Fort Myers areas through Miami and Fort Lauderdale. With such a widespread power outage, in the initial days following the Oct. 17 landfall, all crews could do was make damage assessments until Florida Power & Light could re-establish service.

The region’s major call center for south Florida was shut down during the weekend as the storm approached and the call volume was shifted to Comcast’s Jacksonville, Fla., center.

To restore service, Comcast established an emergency-operations facility near its regional office in Miramar, Fla. The cluster has a main signal-distribution center in Pompano Beach, Fla., but fiber links to Miramar and other locations were damaged. Repairing those links is a priority, Griffin said.

The company is working with a skeleton crew because so many employees are dealing with damage to their homes. All workers have been accounted for, Griffin said.

Hurricane Charlie hit Comcast hard last year, too, and management has learned that in times like this, it’s sometimes necessary to get in the car and personally check on workers.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, Adelphia workers in the region reported that only 20% of its network was operational. The company has 727,436 customers throughout south Florida communities.

Some systems -- such as Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with 119,784 customers -- were still totally without service by the end of the week. The Adelphia system that was best off was the one serving the unincorporated area of Broward County, Fla. -- 66.3% of the 43,216 customers had gotten service back.

Adelphia crews are working around the clock, but they have to follow FP&L’s efforts. In some cases, FP&L has actually had to disconnect Adelphia plant to make its own repairs, according to the cable company.

Adelphia canceled all install calls through the week of Oct. 24 in Florida’s Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties. Local offices remain closed in Palm Beach Gardens, Clewiston, South Bay, Pembroke Pines (two offices), Boca Raton and Lake Worth, while 12 other local offices, including three in Miami, have reopened.

Both of the area’s major operators said they would credit customers’ bills for the outages.

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