The statistics make it look as if someone just flicked a switch and turned off the Internet, and that's not too far from the hurricane truth. In the battered Biloxi-Gulfport region of Mississippi, where about 160,000 people might go online during a typical weeknight, Internet usage had fallen "below reportable levels" by Tuesday, according to the tracking firm comScore Networks.
The number of people logging on in New Orleans, usually 700,000 on an average weeknight, plunged 90 percent after Hurricane Katrina sent most of those Internet users fleeing and knocked out most of the telephone and electrical lines needed to connect any computer not submerged in the floods.
On a more heartening note, comScore also reported Friday that online traffic to the RedCross.org is soaring: On Wednesday, nearly 1 million people visited the Web site, more than 32 times the average daily visit during the prior week.
The hurricane's impact was also evident on the nation's long-distance phone networks, where the number of calls has jumped this week. However, with millions of local phone lines out of service in the Gulf region, the number of long-distance calls that aren't reaching their destination has surged as well.
AT&T Corp., which nationally carries an average of 400 million calls a day on its long-distance network, said calls dialed from Sunday through Wednesday were 10 percent higher compared with the same four days a week earlier. But the company also reported that 4 percent of calls dialed on Wednesday didn't go through. Usually, the number of blocked calls is next to zero.
Other hurricane impacts on communciations traffic included a doubling in the volume of calls and text messages from Verizon Wireless phones in areas of the Gulf Coast where cellular service was still available after the storm.
Not surprisingly, satellite-connected wireless phones are seeing a dramatic increase in usage.
Iridium Satellite LLC reported that traffic on its global network has surged 3000 percent this week, driven by a fivefold increase in phones in use.
Globalstar LLC said about 13,000 new satellite phones have been activated for use in the hurricane zone this week. Before Katrina, there were perhaps 1,000 Globalstar phones in government and private hands in the region.
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