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Mishap Causes 40,000 in 714 Area, Others to Lose Touch : Communications: Damage to a fiber optic cable and a resulting phone gridlock creates problems with incoming and outgoing calls and other phone functions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least 40,000 telephone customers in the 714 area code lost some or all of their phone service for most of the day Monday--and even more lost contact with operator assistance and 911--after a telephone cable was damaged by a Pacific Bell crew.

“We know our customers are frustrated. It’s been a tough day for them,” said Linda Bonniksen, a Pacific Bell spokeswoman.

Damage to the 1-inch cable, carrying fiber optic circuits, occurred about 11:30 a.m. when a crew of Pacific Bell technicians were cutting and removing unused cable from beneath a manhole near John Wayne Airport. The damage was discovered about two hours later, and full restoration did not occur until well past 4 p.m., according to the phone company and its customers.

The cable damage was exacerbated when thousands of customers whose service was disrupted tried to call the telephone company and created a major “telephone gridlock,” Bonniksen said.

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The gridlock, Bonniksen said, affected incoming calls throughout the 714 area and in the 619 area, she said. Customers in central and South Orange County, from Anaheim to El Toro, also had difficulty placing calls. And in San Diego County, callers had trouble getting the operator or business offices.

“Just because the problem was centered in Irvine didn’t mean that it was localized. Because so many people tried to call and because this was a major cable, the problem affected a very wide geographic area,” she said.

Emergency 911 police and fire calls were rerouted from several communities, including Irvine, Lake Forest and Anaheim, to the Orange County Fire and Sheriff’s departments.

Immediately after the disruption, the County Fire Department contacted radio and television stations to alert the public after people reportedly called 911 and received a recorded message which said, “We’re sorry; all lines are busy.”

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“We told the public that if they had a cellular phone to use them, or a CB or ham radio,” said Maria Sabol, a county fire spokeswoman. “We advised them to . . . contact neighbors to help watch out for each other.”

Orange County companies that rely on telephone lines for computer communications worldwide reported severe problems.

Christine Winsor, a telecommunications manager for the Furon Co., manufacturers of rubber and plastic industrial products, said the company’s Laguna Niguel headquarters had trouble with its communications to its other offices “most of the day.”

“We have divisions on the East Coast, and we have time constraints. But because of the disruption, they can’t get their data into us.”

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Sprint, MCI, and AT&T;, the major long distance carriers, all reported a disruption.


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