FRANKLIN, Va. - Nearly two years after Hurricane Floyd ravaged this southside Virginia community, officials from Verizon Communications and the city today dedicated a new, multi-million-dollar call-switching center.
The single-story, elevated building, located at Second and Franklin streets, replaces the GTE facility that was flooded during the hurricane. The new brick Verizon structure is built on pillars 13 feet above the ground, safe from any future flooding.
At the time of the flood, GTE provided local phone service in the area. Last summer, GTE and Bell Atlantic merged to become Verizon.
Total cost for the project, including demolition of the flooded building, is expected to approach $6 million.
''If a hurricane couldn't drive us from downtown Franklin, nothing can,'' said Robert Woltz, president of Verizon Virginia.
Hurricane Floyd roared into Virginia early on Sept. 16, 1999, battering the southeastern part of the state with high winds and rains. Within hours, the Blackwater River escaped its banks, sending torrents of muddy water rushing into Franklin. By Sept. 18, when the river crested, 182 downtown-area businesses and 150 homes were under as much as 12 feet of water.
''This was clearly the worst flooding this city has ever seen,'' said Franklin Mayor Jim Councill. ''Verizon should be commended for its all-out effort to keep telephone service alive.''
''This storm was a phone company's worst nightmare,'' Woltz said. ''GTE didn't lose just a building and some offices. We lost a significant part of our network in this part of Virginia, and with it service to some 14,000 customers.''
By noon Sept. 16, it appeared that the worst of Floyd was over. Waters that were skimming the company's parking lot seemed to be receding. But, suddenly, the river started rising again. At 4 p.m. that afternoon, the backup generator providing power to the switching center failed as floodwaters overtook it.
''GTE's employees in Franklin had split-second decisions to make -- to continue to try to save phone service or protect their own personal property,'' Woltz said. ''Three technicians elected to stay on the job rather than move their personal vehicles to higher ground.
''Not only did these men lose their cars, but one also lost his home,'' he said. ''It's this kind of dedication to duty and to customer service that has come to epitomize Verizon employees.''
Teams of GTE employees battled the rising waters with sandbags for nearly 10 hours before being evacuated. They watched in silence as the flooding approached the roof of their building.
The Franklin switching system was the nerve center for telephone service for Franklin and the surrounding area, connecting several communities, including Great Bridge and Smithfield.
Within two days of the flooding, long before floodwaters receded, GTE crews reconfigured the telephone network to restore service to Southampton Memorial Hospital and to Franklin's emergency services. And, just a few days after that, GTE Wireless (now Verizon Wireless) expanded its cellular network in the area, increasing it from 10 to 69 channels, to accommodate the increased cellular calling in the area.
In less than two weeks, GTE installed two temporary switches and transmission equipment in trailers on the nearby grounds of Franklin Baptist Church. Countless cables had to re-routed, requiring thousands of splices. But, working day and night through oftentimes harsh conditions, GTE employees finished the work in record time.
''Our employees accomplished in 10 days what normally takes 12 months. I couldn't be prouder of the work they did,'' Woltz said.
Verizon started connecting Franklin customers to the new switch in March. The conversion is expected to be complete by next month, at which time the company will close its temporary switches and move the trailers from the church grounds.
A one-story GTE facility, next door to the switching office, also sustained servere flood damage. The building, which houses a service center, has been fully restored.
Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) is one of the world's leading providers of communications services. Verizon companies are the largest providers of wireline and wireless communications in the United States, with 112 million access line equivalents and 27 million wireless customers. Verizon is also the largest directory publisher in the world. A Fortune 10 company with approximately 260,000 employees and more than $65 billion in annual revenues, Verizon's global presence extends to 40 countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia and the Pacific. For more information on Verizon, visit www.verizon.com.