BTC Battles Weather To Complete Family Island Repairs

Thursday 06th, October 2011 / 03:33 Published by

TECH TEAM STORM SURGE --BTC technicians like Garvin Simmons in Long Island have been working non-stop to finalize repairs since Hurricane Irene downed power lines and crippled cables a little more than a month ago. The strength of BTC networks allowed most customers to maintain cell, landline and internet service despite high winds and extensive damage. Crews say repairs will have long-term benefits. With few isolated exceptions, service is fully or nearly fully restored in Long Island, Abaco, Eleuthera, Exuma and Cat Island where thousands of feet of new copper cable had to be run, buildings repaired, cell sites brought back up and damaged undersea spots located and rebuilt. (Photo courtesy of Ramona Ritchie-Taylor, BTC Manager Long Island, Ragged Island, Rum Cay & San Salvador)

Five weeks after Hurricane Irene slammed into The Bahamas downing power lines and crippling phone service in the Family Islands, BTC said today repairmen — many working seven- day weeks since the storm — are nearing completion despite constant weather setbacks.

In Long Island, where two out of every three homes or businesses dependent upon landlines were affected, restoration of service is nearly complete.

“As of this morning, 97% of the restoration is complete,” said Ramona Ritchie-Taylor, regional manager who said bad weather continues to interfere with restoration. “Since the hurricane additional lightning strikes and flooding have caused further delays.” Cellular service, which initially remained operational after the August 24 hurricane, was interrupted when electrically-powered cell sites ran out of battery power. Because BTC leases space on power poles from BEC, restoring electrical power in Long Island, like other Family Islands, was critical to getting service back up and running.

“The strength of BTC networks allowed most customers to maintain cell, landline and internet service despite high winds and extensive damage,” said BTC Marketing Manager Marlon Johnson. “Where there was damage, crews are not only repairing, but doing so in a way that will have long-term benefits so that service will be not just restored, but enhanced in many areas.”

In Cat Island, where downed power poles knocked out all land line service, service has been restored to more than 80% of households and businesses, according to local manager Donald Leadon. “One hundred percent of landline customers were affected,” Leadon said. “There was no service so the first priority was to repair damage to the main exchange building in New Bight.”

Chunks of the building were knocked off, but the roof was intact and building repairs were completed the first day, after which BTC turned its attention to the larger issue, downed cables and poles.

“We were able to bring sites up in stages and within the first week following the storm, the majority of sites were up,” said Leadon.  Five technicians from Nassau joined the four-man team working the island seven days a week. One cell site in Arthurs Town at the north end of Cat Island — the only site served by an underwater fibre optic cable — remained up throughout.

While the underwater cable held in Cat Island, another that suffered major damage in Abaco caused huge headaches for BTC and customers.

“There is an undersea fibre cable that runs from the Treasure Cay dock to Green Turtle Cay and on to Baker’s Bay and then to Guana Cay and it was damaged in three sections,” said Emalin Sawyer, technical manager for Abaco. “It was out for nine days before restoration.” A local diver scoured the cloudy waters for a day and a half to identify the troubled areas.

“The diver had difficulty finding the damaged areas due to murky waters.” In the historic settlement of Green Turtle Cay, the central exchange suffered damage, poles were snapped and cables cut. Two cabinets housing connection wires were affected in Marsh Harbour, Abaco’s largest city, and another in Murphy Town.

Service has now been restored to approximately 80% of customers, said Sawyer. Costs in Abaco were particularly high because of a need to bring in an additional 5,000 feet of copper cable. BTC said it is waiting for BEC to replace a transformer so it can restore cell service in Baker’s Bay and Wood Cay.

Internet, landline and cell service in Eleuthera, where more than nine out of every 10 customers were affected, is now nearly fully up and operational. “Right after the storm, we lost 14 of our 15 cell sites which represent roughly a 94% loss due to Hurricane Irene,” said Alvy Penn, Eleuthera Manager.”Since then, we’ve restored 100%.” Eleuthera was hit hard in every direction and in every capacity. There was fibre cable damage from the Governor’s Harbour Airport all the way to North Eleuthera — a distance of nearly 50 miles — where strong winds snapped BEC poles and knocked out wires in 11 damaged areas. There was serious damage to six of the nine BTC buildings on the island, including a broken tower that crashed down on the roof of the Governor’s Harbour station.

“Our major issue has been copper wire damage,” said Penn. “Copper wires repairs range from 2,000 feet to 8,000 feet and span the entire island (about 110 miles long). Currently six of the 11 areas have been restored: James Cistern, Governor’s Harbour Airport to James Cistern, The Banks Road, Hatchett Bay, Deep Creek and Cupid’s Cay. In Cupid’s Cay there was a lot of damage from torn off roofs with debris falling in the roadways. We had to run an overhead copper cable from the mainland to the cay. The cable measures 3,000 feet and was just replaced last Thursday. Eleuthera had 300-plus customers who needed repairs and if all goes well, service should be fully restored this week.”

Crews working nearly around the clock in Exuma completed repairs on that island, but continue to deal with new challenges of construction trucks hitting low-hanging wires.

BTC Marketing Manager Marlon Johnson called the effort of technical staff, managers and repair crew “nothing short of Herculean.”

“To most of us in Nassau, the hurricane is already a fading memory, but to these men and women who have been dispatched to various Family Islands, Hurricane Irene is still very real. These teams are dealing with its aftermath from sun-up to sundown and beyond, seven days a week and we cannot applaud their efforts enough. It’s been nothing short of Herculean.”

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