About 40,000 customers in Calvert and Anne Arundel counties were left without long-distance telephone service yesterday after strong winds in North Beach blew down an electrical power line, which then burned through a telephone cable, said Bell Atlantic spokeswoman Sandra Arnette.
The loss of phone connections meant many residents in North Beach, Prince Frederick, Solomons and some parts of Annapolis were unable to retrieve money from ATMs, swipe credit cards at gas station pumps, log on to the Internet or access certain databases, Arnette said. She said that phones worked fine for local calls but that residents couldn't dial out or receive calls from numbers outside a central service office in the county.
Bell Atlantic crews started working in the affected areas about midday, and service in most areas was restored by 6 p.m., officials said, but not before tempers flared and patience faltered as people found themselves temporarily disconnected from some cell phones and the World Wide Web.
"That machine down, too?" a man in a station wagon growled to a fellow standing near the out-of-service ATM at a Bank of America branch in Prince Frederick.
"They're all out," came the response. The man in the wagon pulled away to join the long line of drivers waiting to get cash the old-fashioned way--at drive-through teller windows.
At gas stations, attendants hand-copied credit card numbers because many electronic credit systems require dialing out of the local service area.
Employees at the Calvert County courthouse in Prince Frederick joked that the predicament was the result of a Y2K test gone wrong.
"As soon as I heard it on the radio, it wasn't five minutes before people started calling in," said Elaine Tettimer, a courthouse receptionist who had fielded two dozen or more inquiries from worried residents by 4 p.m.
Calls to 911 were unaffected as long as they came from within the local service area, county workers said. Out-of-area calls to the state police barrack in Calvert were forwarded to St. Mary's County.