[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
Fire cuts off 130,000 phone lines
Firefighters above the tunnel where the blaze broke out
Firefighters initially had difficulty getting to the blaze
More than 130,000 telephone lines remain blocked in the North West after a fire started in a BT tunnel in Manchester city centre.

Emergency services have been affected, and police say it is a major incident.

Fire crews had to climb down 30 metres and then crawl 150 metres to get to the fire, which began at about 0330 BST.

BT engineers have gained access to the tunnel after it was closed for most of the day. It is not yet known how long it will take to repair the damage.

Telephone lines have also been affected outside Manchester, with problems with Cheshire's 999 service.

Phone lines are also down in Merseyside, Lancashire and north Derbyshire.

Greater Manchester Ambulance Service said it had been put under "extreme pressure" after the blaze damaged its radio network.

'Working tirelessly'

The control centre is using mobile phones to contact emergency crews.

An ambulance spokeswoman said: "We send messages out to ambulances via radio, but that is not working at the moment.

"We are extremely busy and we are working tirelessly to get the radio up and running.

"At the moment it is not affecting emergency and 999 calls, but we are extremely busy and the situation is being monitored and extra staff have been brought in."

Emergency calls in Cheshire were also affected as 10,000 phone lines in the east of the county went down.

We will have to ventilate the tunnel before BT engineers can go down there, so the disruption is likely to continue for some time
Assistant divisional officer Ian Bailey
A Cheshire Police spokesman said: "Our ability to receive 999 calls has not been affected but the ability of people using those 10,000 lines to make 999 calls from land lines may have been.

"We would urge them to use mobile phones."

The force also increased patrols in the areas where phone lines were not working.

Assistant divisional officer Ian Bailey, of Greater Manchester Fire Service, said the fire itself was not too serious but reaching it proved problematic.

He said: "The firefighters needed breathing apparatus and were using a lot of air up by the time they reached the fire, so we had a high turnover of firefighters."

Internet affected

Firefighters had to ventilate the tunnel before BT engineers were allowed down.

Freeserve, the internet service provider, said customers in the Manchester area had experienced difficulties with their broadband connections as a result of the fire while AOL said its customers in the area, who are connected to the BT network, would also experience problems.

A BT spokesman said: "We don't know what caused the fire at this stage but it is affecting more than 130,000 homes and businesses in Manchester."

The firm described the damage to the cabling as extensive.

BT said fixing the ambulance radios was the top priority, but could not give a timescale.

Anyone wishing to report a non-urgent incident was asked to wait until full phone service had resumed.

People experiencing problems with their telephones were also asked not to report the fault.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"It was a small fire with a big impact"



SEE ALSO:
BT fires latest shot in price war
24 Mar 04  |  Business
Telecom firm 'declares war on BT'
21 Mar 04  |  Business
BT puts faith on broadband extras
11 Mar 04  |  Technology


RELATED BBCi LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific