Utility-line accidents increasing: Workers are asked to call before digging

MISSISSIPPI - The phone and power companies say they have been dealing with a high rate of accidents resulting from people digging up underground service lines.

But blackouts and service disruptions aren't the only result of workers and homeowners coming into contact with utilities. Power lines are a lethal threat to cable installers, construction workers and the unaware homeowner trimming a tree or installing satellite dish. And damaging other utility lines can result in costly construction delays.

AT&T has been sending repair crews out to patch breaks in its lines several times a week since it repaired its phone and data network after Katrina. "We do have an ongoing issue with construction crews cutting our cables," said Sue Perry, a spokeswoman for AT&T Mississippi.

"We have about 20 a month, leading to service disruptions." Both construction crews and homeowners have been digging up and breaking the new hi-tech fiber-optic cables running underground. Most people, she said, do not realize an entirely new network has been installed south of I-10 since the 2005 hurricane. That network, which supplies high-speed Internet access for business and residential customers, runs in sealed conduits below ground rather than up high on the old-fashioned utility poles. Mississippi Power also runs electricity through underground lines. Some of those lines carry more than 600 volts.

"Mississippi Power averages two accidents a month from diggers who are unaware of the utility lines below," said spokeswoman Cindy Duvall. "Accident reports show it's when workers are repairing and putting in a fence or building new construction on a piece of property that didn't have any existing structure."

Duvall recommended homeowners or construction crews who are about to dig call Mississippi's One-Call System at 8-1-1 at least 48 hours before they start. She said utility crews will come out and mark underground water, sewerage, electrical, gas, cable and phone lines.


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