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Satellite Communications Fills Katrina's Telephone Void

With most landline and cell phone networks still dead in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast where Hurricane Katrina hit hardest, there has been an almost panicky run to satellite phone service, which has remained uninterrupted in the days since the hurricane plowed into the region.

“Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Liz DeCastro, a spokeswoman for Iridium Satellite. “We’ve just shipped 10,000 phones and we’re ready to ship another 6,000.”

There has been a 3,000 percent increase in traffic in the region since the hurricane landed in the area, DeCastro added.

Iridium is a worldwide provider of voice and data technology through its constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting satellites. The firm has supplied some 25,000 phones to the Department of Defense and there are reports some are being pressed into service as commercial telephone and cell phone firms struggled to repair their equipment damaged in the storm.

The Defense Information Systems Agency has deployed satellite equipment to its Camp Shelby, Miss., facility and has sent Iridium phones for use on the USS Bataan, a Navy ship that's conducting rescue operations off the coast of Louisiana. However, given that an estimated 1.8 million phones are dead, it’s not enough.

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