Blitz spirit beats telephone disruption

EAST Bergholt residents today spoke of the village's "Blitz spirit" after fire tore through a telephone exchange leaving homes and businesses without landlines.

EAST Bergholt residents today spoke of the village's "Blitz spirit" after fire tore through a telephone exchange leaving homes and businesses without landlines.

BT engineers were today working to restore normal service to residents in the picturesque village after 1,300 homes were left without landline telephones for most of the weekend.

The first lines were restored to customers late yesterday morning but some residents were not expected to have their lines reconnected until late today.

BT spokesman Jason Mann said: "We will continue working on this 24 hours a day until every customer has been restored."

The lines were cut on Friday night when the fire, thought to be an act of arson, spread from a van in a car park in Gaston Road to the nearby exchange at about 9pm.

Fire crews from Hadleigh, Manningtree, Holbrook and Colchester tackled the blaze and it was extinguished just after 11pm - but not before it caused severe damage to the single-storey building.

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Kate Stannet, who lives next door to the car park, heard a number of explosions as the fire took hold in the van and nearby building.

She said: "There were some very deep booms. I thought I heard children letting off fireworks. I came out of the house to yell at them, then I realised what was happening. I immediately called the fire brigade."

Mrs Stannet, 44, said six fire crews helped bring the fire under control.

She said: "There was a crowd of about 20 villagers at the height of the blaze. You could see the flames coming out of the roof. It was an intense fire."

Though hoping to have her landline restored by BT as quickly as possible Mrs Stannet said East Bergholt villagers were sharing mobile telephones to communicate.

She said: "Villagers are talking to each other again. I've not come across anyone being too frustrated. We have got mobile phones nowadays."

Police are treating the blaze as suspicious and have launched an investigation.

Red Lion landlord, Rick Brogan, who witnessed the fire along with his son Callum, said: "A BT van caught alight first then the fire spread to the exchange. You could hear the windows popping."

Father-of-two Mr Brogan, 50, said several customers had to leave the pub without paying for meals and drinks as the credit card transaction machine stopped working at about 9.30pm.

He added: "We trust them to pay us."

Sub postmaster Alec Gardner said the village post office had lost its online services but was still providing services to customers known by the store.

He said: "We know the majority of people so we are still giving cash back and other services. We are relying on them to come and pay us when they can.

"The whole village is off the phone but people have pulled together. There has been a bit of a Blitz spirit."

N Were you affected by the disruption to landline connections? Did your business have to find another way to keep operating while phone lines were down? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

BT engineers were dispatched to East Bergholt when the news broke that a fire had left hundreds of residents without landlines.

The company first moved to assess how many customers had been affected and BT staff worked through the night to begin the massive task of restoring connections.

One of the company's first priorities was to ensure residents had access to telephones for emergency use.

BT spokesman Jason Mann said mobile phones were made available at the exchange in Gaston Road on Saturday morning for residents who needed to make urgent calls.

The company then organised for a portable, or mobile, exchange to be trucked in and staff undertook the painstaking task of switching connections to the temporary exchange.

Mr Mann said: "It is a massive job.

"As every hour goes by more and more will go back on."

While landlines were out of operation BT also worked with local doctors and social services to find out if vulnerable residents or those with medical conditions were affected.

Mr Mann said: "Where vulnerable people have been identified a mobile phone has been made available."

Damage to the exchange is said to be "extensive" with both the fire and the water used to tackle it destroying equipment contained inside.

Mr Mann said: "It's certainly going to be out of operation for weeks, if not for months."

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