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Operator? Telephones are out in Essex

Service cut to 4,800; few problems reported

By Joe Nawrozki Sun Staff

The bus from Ocean City was in at Fattie's Bar and Grill in Essex.

Inside, midday revelers prepared to attend a bull roast. The Maryland Lottery machine was going strong. Faxes were received. The pay telephone rang, and owner Jack Harrell conducted his daily business over his phone.

Phone outage? What phone outage?

Emergency workers for Bell Atlantic put the finishing touches yesterday on replacing two major trunk lines that were accidentally severed Tuesday, but people in Essex and surrounding neighborhoods hardly noticed.

"My phone was out on Tuesday, but I had it back today," said Phil Schlossberg, owner of Tint Masters, across the street from where the lines were cut. "Hey, it's no big deal."

Sandra Arnette, a telephone company spokeswoman, said workers were expected to have the disconnected lines working again by about 11 p.m. today.

"The only thing that can slow us down is the weather," Arnette said yesterday. "All of our customers should have service" by late today.

During the height of the outage, about 4,800 phone customers lost service. By yesterday, about 1,500 remained without service.

No critical connections - police, fire, ambulance or hospital - were lost.

"It's been wildly scattered," said Bob Leech, one supervisor at the repair site. "One person on a given block will have phone service and their next-door neighbors won't."

The affected exchanges are 686, 687, 391, 574, 682, 780 and 918.

Raymond Carter, a Bell Atlantic supervisor, said the trunk lines were severed about 10 a.m. Tuesday when an equipment operator sliced underground cables at the site of a new convenience store at Old Eastern Avenue and Eastern Boulevard near Middlesex Shopping Center.

Carter spoke as about a dozen workers tended to the trunk lines. They were covered by yellow nylon tents that offered protection against the rain but not against the mud that the men sloshed through as they worked.

"Usually, the lines are beneath a cover of 2 to 3 feet," said Carter. "We're not sure how deep these lines were beneath the ground, but they sure whacked them pretty good."

The lines severed are copper, not fiber-optic, Carter said.

Construction companies conducting digging operations usually have maps indicating underground power, gas and telephone lines, Arnette said.

She would not identify the company that cut the lines or say whether the company had such a map.

Dave Shaw, owner of DNS Automotive on Old Eastern Avenue, said he lost service for a day.

"My customers couldn't get to me for one day, but it wasn't the end of the world," Shaw said. "Life goes on."

-- (, June 15, 2000

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