TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Computers and Phones For Astrodome Refugees

Computers and Phones For Astrodome Refugees

Matt Slagle (
Fri, 2 Sep 2005 15:44:43 -0500

By MATT SLAGLE, AP Technology Writer

Thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees packing into Houston's
Astrodome are getting electronic access to the outside world.

Corporations, volunteers and nonprofit agencies continued working
Friday to install telephones and Internet-enabled computers inside the
sprawling former sports stadium in one of many efforts aimed at
bringing communications technologies to hurricane victims.

Astrodome refugees, displaced from the Superdome in New Orleans, were
getting 10 minutes blocks of time to make free local and long distance

Many of them haven't heard from friends or family -- nor have they
been able to let loved ones know they're safe -- since Katrina ravaged
their hometown on Monday.

Audree Lee, 37, said she was relieved after hearing her teenage
daughter's voice. Lee had relatives take her daughter to Alabama so
she would be safe.

"I just cried. She cried. We cried together," Lee said Thursday after
using one of the free lines at the Astrodome. "She asked me about her
dog. They wouldn't let me take her dog with me. ... I know the dog is
gone now."

Technology For All, a Houston nonprofit, was coordinating with
authorities to set up a center in the Astrodome with 40 desktop
computers loaded with Internet connections and office productivity

"We're just working on this one little piece," said William Reed, the
organization's chief executive. "We recognize that these folks need a
connection to the outside world."

SBC Communications Inc. said it planned to establish a communications
center at the Astrodome with about 1,000 telephone lines and free
high-speed Internet service. A similar setup was also in the works at
a shelter in San Antonio, Texas, where the company is based.

Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, offered to recharge cell phones for free
at its stores and many emergency shelters, while Cingular Wireless
invited displaced residents to make free calls from its company-owned
stores in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

SBC spokesman Larry Meyer acknowledged food, showers and other basic
needs would come first, but said "we've got to begin to address other
needs as well."

Farrell Johnson, a 54-year-old New Orleans carpenter who now calls the
Astrodome home, said he appreciated the efforts.

"It's not bad in there to get to use the phones," Johnson
said. "Everybody is being very cooperative. They put a bank of telephones
and little privacy booths in this one area; volunteers from one of the
Houston area ISPs keeps everything on a strict time schedule for how
much people can use the computers; same with the phones, and if
someone gets a phone call, they take messages for us."

Associated Press Writer Pam Easton in Houston contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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