City cut off by downed phone lines

By Reggie Ellis

The afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 2 seemed more like the beginning of a science fiction film than the middle of another day at the office.

It was rumored that a freak accident on Anderson Road had somehow cut Exeter off from the outside world - at least telephonically. Residents and businesses could call within the city but could not communicate through the landlines with anyone outside city limits. Many lost Internet access but did have the use of their cell phones.

The eeriest part was that the phone company, Verizon, could not be reached! Only a recording saying that a fiber optic line had been cut and 12,000 customers in Lindsay, Exeter and Corcoran had been affected. The phones went down between noon and 12:30 p.m. and service did not return until after 5 p.m. As of press time, Verizon had still not returned phone calls asking for a more specific explanation of what had happened.

Rueban Gonzales, owner of China's Alley restaurant, said the phone outage couldn't have come on a better day.

"We are closed Tuesdays so it didn't affect us at all," Gonzales said. "It was perfect timing if ever there is for something like that."

Other restaurants weren't so lucky. Ken Rollans, owner of the Olive Tree Restaurant, said credit and debit card machines that operate through the phone lines were unavailable during the lunch rush.

"At first we thought it was a problem with the credit card company because we kept getting a busy signal," Rollans said.

Rollans said several customers signed their tickets and came back to pay with cash or check later in the afternoon.

"It was inconvenient but it worked out," Rollans said. "My employees did a pretty good job."

Many local banks were affected by the loss of phone lines as well. Aaron Williamson, manager for Bank of America's Lindsay branch, said ATMs' phones and computers were all down the entire afternoon. He said employees used their cell phones to verify account numbers and funds with the bank's coporate office.

"We wrote manual receipts so the customers weren't really affected," Williamson said. "There weren't any major complaints, the wait was just a little longer."

The story was different in Exeter, where the Bank of America branch closed at noon for the rest of the day. Jessica Ortiz, teller coordinator for the Exeter branch, was acting branch manager on Dec. 2. Ortiz was filling in for branch manager Casey Bolling who was on vacation last week. Ortiz decided to close the office at 3:45 p.m. in order to meet the 4 p.m. deadline for transaction processing.

"This is a new position for me and we didn't know to begin doing the manual receipts because we thought [Bank of America's] system was going to come back on," Ortiz said. "We didn't realize it was the phones at first, we thought it was just a problem with the bank system."

Ortiz said they had to call Lindsay to notify the district manager of the situation and to verify account numbers.

City of Lindsay Finance Director Kenny Walker said city hall enjoyed "a quieter afternoon." Walker said without the capability to call out of the city or receive calls from outside of the city there were much fewer phone calls from residents within the city limits.

Bert Garzelli, chief of Lindsay's Department of Public Safety, said the police department didn't have any problems compensating for the loss of an outside line. Garzelli said all supervisors have cell phones that were working and the department was dispatched through the county for 911 calls.

"It may have slowed down the dispatch a little but not enough to affect overall response to emergencies," Garzelli said.

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