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Comcast Mounts Repair Effort In Houston Post-Ike

Comcast has started its mop-up after Hurricane Ike in Houston and Galveston, Texas, where some 500,000, or 67%, of its 750,000 subscribers don’t have cable service in the wake of storm damage and massive local power outages, officials said Tuesday.

“The storm has affected our entire service area,” said Ray Purser, Comcast’s vice president of public relations in Houston. “It’s not just related to Galveston. The wind damage and the flooding in the other areas that we service was also pretty significant.”

It’s far too early for a dollar assessment of the damage, but the situation at the Houston plant is different than that in Galveston. In Houston, there was damage of aerial cables, and drops to homes, from the wind and debris, according to Purser. But Galveston, where the storm surge was as high as 15 feet, felt the full brunt of Ike.

“In Galveston, we do have some damage there from the storm surge,” Purser said. “It’s sort of a completely different animal [from Houston]…Obviously in those areas we’ve got complete devastation and the network’s going to have to be rebuilt there.”

But there is some good news, according to Purser. Comcast’s 2,700 employees in the Houston cluster are alive and accounted for, although impacted by the deadly hurricane this past weekend.

“We do have employees that have had significant damage, everything from their entire home being destroyed to flooding to major roof damage and structural damage to their homes,” Purser said.

“We are contending with that and working with our employees, especially our displaced employees, to find them temporary housing, taking care of their needs,” he said “Really that’s our family and we want to make sure that they’re taken care of.”

Comcast was able to quickly get its primary network in Houston back online. The system’s headquarters is located about 15 miles northwest of downtown Houston, which took a direct hit from Ike. 

“We are still on generated power at this office, as well as our call center,” Purser said. “We do not have power, but the damage to our office here was minor. We didn’t really suffer any major structural damage in any of our hub sites. By Saturday evening, we were able to restore our primary network.”

According to Purser, “There was some damage there, but we had many employees come in and volunteer to see what they could do to help. And we dispatched crews out to begin surveying the damage and doing that they could to try to get the primary network up.”

Comcast is undertaking repair work in areas where the cable operator has clearance from the power company to return to neighborhoods.

“Most people do not have our service because they still do not have power,” Purser said. “There are still about 1.6 million homes that do not have power.”

 The cable system had 400 technicians from other systems, as well as independent contractors, arrive yesterday to do repairs, with another 100 arriving today.

“That’s what we’re doing yesterday and today,” Purser said. “As the power’s restored, we’re going in, we’re making the repairs. And it’s in the individual neighborhoods.”

Yesterday, 75% of Comcast’s subscribers in the greater Houston area didn’t have cable service. On Tuesday, that number was reduced to 67%, according to Purser.

“So we banged out quite a bit on our first day,” he said. “And we’re going to see that number continue to decline as we just aggressively get out there and make the repairs. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve done in the first 24 hours. Our employees are working dawn to dusk.”