BT flood causes widespread chaos

A TELEPHONE and broadband outage caused massive disruption across North-West London throughout Wednesday and Thursday. Telephones lines and internet connections were knocked out in St John s Wood, Maida Vale, Swiss Cottage and Marylebone after accidental

A TELEPHONE and broadband outage caused massive disruption across North-West London throughout Wednesday and Thursday.

Telephones lines and internet connections were knocked out in St John's Wood, Maida Vale, Swiss Cottage and Hampstead after accidental flooding put Paddington telephone exchange out of action.

Fire crews were called to the flood at the BT building on Bell Street, Lisson Grove, which also sparked an electrical fire, at around 7.30am on Wednesday morning.

Firefighters managed to get the situation under control within two hours, but the disaster has caused a communications blackout lasting more than 24 hours.

Lord's cricket ground, shops, restaurants, banks, family doctors and a host of other public services were blighted by the outage.

Faye Gray, a receptionist at Little Venice Medical Centre, said her surgery was among those affected.

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"Our computers and phone lines didn't work for around 24 hours," she said.

"Patients couldn't ring us, the computers were down and we couldn't access our records so when patients came in we didn't know who they were."

Gary Vanger, owner of Square One fashion store on St John's Wood High Street, said: "It was frantic yesterday because you couldn't get through to the credit card companies or take money electronically because the internet was down.

"So we had to go back to taking money through paper transactions - it was like going back to the eighties."

And a spokeswoman for the Mystical Fairies shop in Flask Walk, Hampstead, said: "We had no phones at all on Wednesday. They sort of came back on Thursday and it seems to be okay now."

The Royal Free Hospital was also affected by the phone line disturbance although a spokeswoman insisted the disruption was minimal and dealt with quickly.

Meanwhile, large numbers of local residents were inconvenienced, with many unable to use their phones, computers or even withdraw money from their bank accounts.

Speaking the day after the accident, Church Street neighbourhood centre outreach worker John MacDonald said: "No-one could get any money out of the cash machines or the post office all day yesterday until 9am this morning and you couldn't even get a lottery ticket.

"Tesco's couldn't do any transactions and it caused a lot of problems for older people."

Church Street resident Brian Whittaker added: "I'm registered as disabled by BT and I've not been given any indication of what is going on.

"We've had no information whatsoever. This is absolutely disgraceful.

"BT are meant to be a national symbol but they have failed us - it's unbelievable. It's not on. When are BT going to pull their finger out?"

But BT spokesman said in a statement issued at 1pm on Thursday that services were being restored: "Following major flooding at a BT exchange in the Paddington area, tens of thousands of customers in parts of North and West London may be experiencing a loss of broadband and/or telephone service. Customers in other parts of the country may also be affected.

"The flood water has been removed from the exchange building overnight and power is being restored. Restoration of communications services to customers is now underway, with thousands of phone and broadband customers now back in service. "This work will continue throughout the day and until all services to all customers impacted are fully restored. We will issue further updates as this work progresses.

"Customers can get recorded updates by calling 0800 1690199. The message will be updated as the situation changes.

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