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Six degrees of separation; two in the Magnolia State

In the hour of need, the business community text-messaged, Blackberry-ed notes, and found other ways to try to link loved ones.

“We’ve had calls from people across the country trying to locate people,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner George Dale. “They’re trying to, by luck, find someone who can help locate somebody for them. The insurance department and state fire marshal’s office are trying to help, but there’s only so much we can do.”

By Tuesday morning, Cellular South’s emergency task force had increased service to areas of Jackson County — in Pascagoula and Ocean Springs. By Tuesday afternoon, the company had increased service to the Harrison County cities of Biloxi and Gulfport. Service to the Bay St. Louis area in Hancock County had improved by Wednesday morning.

“We know the last few days have been emotionally trying for hundreds of thousands,” said Hu Meena, president of Cellular South. “Our technicians and engineers, some who have also suffered personal losses, are feverishly working to restore our network to capacity as quickly as possible.”

In the hardest hit areas, Cellular South deployed COWs (Cellular on Wheels) as temporary cellular sites that support service in areas where power is lost or network damage has occurred. Wireless crews from around the country are assisting with restoration.

“Immediately after a tower comes back on line, it is loaded with the maximum number of calls that the newest available technology can handle,” said Meena. “We recognize that many customers have not talked to loved ones in days, but do ask that everyone understand the delays this can cause our network as it is overloaded with calls. If text messaging is a possibility, we ask that customers utilize this means of communication as it places less demand on wireless networks than voice calls.”

The Central Mississippi business community has been lending a helping hand to victims of Hurricane Katrina fleeing north.

“I can’t come to grips with what I’m seeing on TV about New Orleans and the Mississippi Coast,” texted Chris Blount, manager of corporate communications for L-3 Vertex Aerospace. “My church in Madison is a Red Cross shelter and I’ve worked several shifts. Most of the people there live in New Orleans.”

Even though reports were rampant about price gouging on fuel and other high-demand items, some entrepreneurs showed hurricane survivors the meaning of true Southern hospitality.

“Tuesday night, we were looking for somewhere to cool off and eat,” e-mailed Kathy Arich of Madison, a Mississippi Business Journal advertising account executive. “We were thrilled to find Katherine’s Steak House on Old Canton had gotten power back and opened up. I noticed that the waiters were inquiring about each table that they didn’t recognize where the diners were from. When they would try to pay Kerry, the owner would tell them their dinner and drinks were on the house and how sorry he was for their losses and he only hoped they would be OK. This was done very quietly and without fanfare.

“I asked our waiters if he had been doing that for everyone from out of town and they said he had. They also said he had spent the day cooking red beans and rice to take to the Marriott, where refugees had been sleeping in the lobby. This really touched me after being out that day and seeing the bad side of so many people, including business owners.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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