Powerless: Residents scramble to get online, plugged in
Published 2:50 pm, Wednesday, August 31, 2011
FAIRFIELD -- Scooping up an iced beverage, Fred Mayor scans the packed Starbucks cafe for an open electrical outlet -- his Easton home's been without power and running water since Sunday.
While he waits for the opportunity to charge his iPad and download a movie, he explains how he solved what could have been a stinky situation.
"It's easy," he said. "You boil water on the grill, mix it with the water stored in the bathtub."
He spots a chair opening by the window, at a table with a woman tapping feverishly on her laptop.
"You start with the hair, then pour the rest over yourself," he adds, ready to head for the open seat. "You have a good shower. And you're not offending anyone."
Across the region Tuesday, people were contending not just with prolonged power outages, but with a mix of empty faucets, spotty cellphone service and no Internet and cable at home. While the adventure and forced proximity with neighbors and strangers alike has been welcome to some, it's an annoyance whose shelf life may be limited.
"I've been talking to people who I didn't know lived on my street anymore," said Ken O'Toole, general manager of Planet Fitness on lower Black Rock Turnpike. His Stratfield area neighborhood held a 15-person kickball game and barbecue Monday night. "We were hanging out like it was the Fourth of July. Then we started talking about when this would get old."
Thursday, they figured.
Since Monday, O'Toole's gym has opened its showers to the community, taking in at least 100 people (members and non-members alike) who couldn't wash themselves at home. "We had a line for the showers this morning," he said Tuesday afternoon. "I've never seen all five showers going -- let alone people waiting to get in one."
Power is the key to the problem, said Bill Henderson, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1298, whose members are doing much of the recovery work for cell and phone service as well as AT&T's U-verse television service.
There were about 200 cell towers out of commission after the storm, he said, largely because they lost power.
About 1,000 generators have been trucked into the state to restore those towers, which are not owned by AT&T, he said. AT&T is bringing in generators to repower its U-verse system, which needs electricity to power the equipment that is housed in the large metal cabinets. He said people that have combined phone and U-verse will lose both because the phone service is provided through the same system.
Henderson said people with just plain old telephone service, also know has "pots" should still be able to use their phones because that system is self-powered.
"The POTS should still work, unless the wires are down," he said.
That's a real possibility, as there were about 12,000 lines down after the storm, and getting to them can be tricky as crews wait for power to be restored first or roads to be cleared of fallen trees, he said.
Though Henderson criticized AT&T for reducing staff over the years, he also praised the company for being prepared and having access to the generators. The company is also bringing in crews from Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio to help with restoration.
"Maintaining and restoring power to those networks is our primary focus and we are aggressively assessing and implementing the best available options to restore service to our customers as quickly and safely as possible," said Chuck Coursey, an AT&T spokesman.
Sprint and Verizon also said they are working to restore service in the region. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy put the number of cellphone towers out of service at near 300.
The loss of Internet service transformed the Starbucks on Black Rock Turnpike Tuesday from cafe to cubicle farm. Laptops were perched on tables and laps. Wires snaked across the floor. People talked less with each other than into cellphones and headsets. Frequently, small talk centered on access to electrical outlets.
Terry Mo, who has electricity and running water at his Easton home, is missing Cablevision, and, consequently, Internet. He went to three different Starbucks and finally settled down and waited for 15 minutes in the Black Rock Turnpike location for a spot. Perusing the New York Times website as he sipped his iced cafe mocha, he concluded: "The Internet has become pretty important in people's lives."
Like AT&T, the cable companies said service was hampered by loss of power and line problems as well as access issues in some parts of the state.
While many people looked for ways to plug back into the digital world, other people used the outage to take a break and do other things, like bowling.
At Nutmeg Bowl, Amy Cairns watched her children wrap up a game of bowling. While Cairns is worried about getting back to work -- she's lost some days as a bus driver because of the outage -- she said there is an upshot to all this.
"It makes the kids read more," she said. "Good way to finish up summer assignments."