Phone lines reconnected after bridge wash out

Telecommunications in South Westland were coming back on-line just before noon today after a storm washed out the Wanganui Bridge near Harihari.

The only fibre optic cable to the area was washed out with the bridge yesterday, leaving South Westlanders cut off from phone, and internet. Some cellphone towers were also damaged.

Westland District Council civil defence officer John Bainbridge said that Telecom was installing a replacement section of phone line.

"They may need to fly the line across with a helicopter," he said. "I do know that joining fibre optic cable is not a simple process."

An employee at the general store in Harihari said the phone and internet came back on about 11.30am. Two helicopters were seen in the area throughout the morning.

In Franz Josef Glacier, Full of Beans Cafe supervisor Neil Mason said their phone and Eftpos machine were back on-line about midday.

The storm drove away a lot of business over the last several days. "We lost a lot of bookings. It's a hell of a time for that to happen, but there's nothing you can do about the weather."

While phone lines were down, small towns in South Westland had to improvise to communicate outside the region, including contact with emergency services.

Mr Bainbridge said there were satellite phones located in Fox Glacier, Franz Josef Glacier and Haast. "The problem is none of the satellite phones will recognise 111. You've got to know the emergency services' direct dial number to be able to talk to someone."

Small communities like Harihari, Whataroa and Okarito had their own radio telephone networks and looked after themselves. "What this has shown is just how resilient these communities really are."


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