Lightning Fries Phone Lines, Hangs Up Firms

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A lightning strike Tuesday severed Payson's telecommunications links with the outside world, leaving residents and business operators stranded without long-distance telephone service and Internet connections.

The disruption affected community operations ranging from law enforcement databases and credit card services to casino gambling and travel agencies.

"The lightning strike hit a cyber-cable between Payson and Phoenix, and it took some time to find and fix the problem," Mike Jones, Qwest's regional manager, said.

"The strike was in a remote area, and crews literally had to hike up the side of a mountain to get to it," added Matt Barkett from Qwest's media relations.

While the strike briefly knocked out all telephone, cell phone and Internet service, crews immediately rerouted the community's 9-1-1 service to the police department's seven-digit line and quickly restored local phone service, Barkett said. Long-distance telephone service, cell phone service and Internet service, however, was down for the bulk of Tuesday afternoon and evening.

"We were still getting calls in ... it didn't affect 9-1-1 service much at all," Della Bradley, Payson Police Department's support services manager, said.

Officers on the street, however, were cut off from the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System.

"If they stopped someone, they had no way of checking if the driver had a valid license, or if there were any outstanding warrants," Bradley said, "although one driver who was stopped Tuesday volunteered that he was driving without a license."

Kim Jim, owner of Travel Network, said the outage derailed her business for most of the day.

"Most of our work is done primarily on computer and with '800' numbers," she said. "We were dead in the water. We couldn't call our vendors, and we couldn't call the airlines, even if we wanted to."

The saddest problem associated with the outage, Jim said, emerged when a customer needed to book a flight to Los Angeles for a funeral.

"She had to get there right away, and we had no way of getting through to the airlines," she said.

At the Mazatzal Casino, the lightning strike knocked automated teller machines off line. General Manager Jim Gannarelli said that since the casino is a cash-only business, the outage caused major headaches.

"People couldn't get cash out of the ATMs, and we don't accept checks," he said. "What we did, though, for the convenience of our customers, was accept checks until the ATMs were back up and running.

Crews worked into the night to correct the problem, Barkett said, and by the next morning, lines were spliced and patched, allowing the Rim country to once again reach out and touch the rest of the world.

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