Wilma Recovery Efforts Depend on Power

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Cable companies that still hadn't completely cleaned up from Hurricane Katrina's Florida landfall were hit again, this time from the west, by Hurricane Wilma on Oct. 24.

Comcast Corp. and Adelphia Communications Inc. were again victimized and operations were still in disarray by late last week. 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.

Shortly after Wilma, only 2% of South Florida residents had electricity, according to estimates.

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

WIDESPREAD POWER LOSS

The hurricane damaged plant from the Naples and Fort Myers areas through Miami and Fort Lauderdale. With such a widespread power outage, all crews could do was make damage assessments until Florida Power & Light could reestablish service.

South Florida's major call center was shut down during the weekend as the storm approached and the call volume shifted to Comcast's Jacksonville center.

To restore service, Comcast established an emergency operations facility near its regional office in Miramar. The cluster has a main signal-distribution center in Pompano Beach, 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 own homes. All workers have been accounted for, Griffin said.

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

By 5 p.m. Oct. 27, Adelphia reported that only 20% of its network in the region was operational. The company has 727,436 customers throughout South Florida.

Some systems, such as Palm Beach Gardens, with 119,784 customers, were still without service by week's end. An Adelphia system serving the unincorporated area of Broward County fared the best: By Friday, 66.3% of the 43,216 customers had gotten service back.

Adelphia crews are working around the clock, but have to follow FP&L's efforts. In some cases, FP&L has had to disconnect Adelphia plant to make its own repairs, the operator said.

INSTALLS CANCELLED

Adelphia cancelled all install calls during the week of Oct. 24 in 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. Twelve other local offices, including three in Miami, have reopened.

Both operators said they would credit customers' bills for the outages.

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