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Emergency center available to cellphone-deprived Tallahasseeans

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Hurricane Hermine put a hurtin’ on cellphone service in North Florida, but people were finding ways to cope via emergency communications hubs set up by wireless companies and public officials.

Meanwhile, power slowly began to flow again in Tallahassee as crews wrapped up repairs to major transmission lines. And Gov. Rick Scott planned damage-inspection visits to Panacea and Alligator Point, where Hermine demolished the access road.

Scott addressed the power situation in a written statement following meetings with local officials in the disaster zone. He was to confer with them again later Saturday.

“It is a problem that so many people do not have power, and I fully expect every city and county official to aggressively fix this,” he said.

Verizon opened a wireless emergency communication center at Beef O’Brady’s restaurant at 1800 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee.

That’s a generator-powered mobile unit with charging and computer workstations, plus tablets, phones and similar devices that the phoneless can use to contact friends, family, and insurance companies.

Technicians were posted to help people solve phone problems and charge batteries.

The company said its store at 6721 Thomasville Road was open and available for individuals who need help troubleshooting their devices or to make long-distance calls — free of charge. Two additional Verizon stores were due to open on Saturday.

The network itself was operating normally, the company said. But it advised customers to use their cellphones judiciously lest the post-disaster strain overwhelm the system.

Additional advice is available at Verizon’s Emergency Information Center.

Comcast has set up 2,000 free wireless hot spots in the disaster zone, according to the governor’s office.

The Tallahassee Democrat, citing city officials, reported that 13 of AT&T’s cellphone towers in the city had lost power in the storm.

AT&T spokeswoman Rosie Montalvo acknowledged the outages but told the newspaper: “Overall, our network is continuing to perform well.”

The company was “deploying generators to affected sites and are working closely with local power companies to ensure that our customers stay connected.”

A cooling station at the Leon County Main Library also offered internet access and charging stations.

As for electric service, there were 78,809 homes without power in Tallahassee, with thousands more elsewhere in North Florida, the governor’s office said.

The state was shipping 200 Department of Transportation generators from Orlando and Fort Myers to power traffic lights in the Tallahassee area, Scott said.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a Facebook post that crews had restored power to 15,000 customers.

“Line crews are continuing to work 16hr shifts to provide round-the-clock effort to get power back in large chunks,” he wrote.

He posted Friday night that work crews first concentrated on major transmission lines but had begun repairs to distribution lines that carry power to people’s homes.

As of Saturday, “crews will be out early connecting as many customers as they can to electricity,” Gillum wrote. “I am hopeful that we will beat our timetable and get our city up and running sooner than expected.”

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