Sinkhole knocks Fort Smith off communications grid

Sinkhole knocks Fort Smith off communications grid

The town of Fort Smith was cut off from the rest of the world for 17 hours last week after a sinkhole along Highway 5 damaged the fibre-optic line late Thursday morning, affecting phone, cable and internet service.

Residents in Fort Smith lost access to cellular data, long-distance calling, cable TV, internet and wireless services starting at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Service wasn’t fully restored until 4:50 a.m. on Friday.

It was right in the process when the excavator was checking the extent of the sinkhole into the roadbed that the sinkhole further collapsed, and that’s what actually caused the fibreoptic line to sever.
—  Greg Whitlock, NWT Transportation

According to the NWT department of Transportation (DOT), the disruption was the result of work being done along Highway 5 to repair a sinkhole that had opened up within Wood Buffalo National Park.

“The department, under the direction of Wood Buffalo National Park, was directed to go out there with a load of gravel and a private contractor with an excavator in order to address a sinkhole that opened up on the side of the highway, right on the shoulder,” said DOT regional superintendent Greg Whitlock.

“It was right in the process when the excavator was checking the extent of the sinkhole into the roadbed that the sinkhole further collapsed, and that’s what actually caused the fibreoptic line to sever. It wasn’t a piece of equipment; it was the sinkhole that opened up,” he said.

Northwestel crews were subsequently called in from Yellowknife and Hay River to repair the fibre, which was done throughout the night. DOT crews and the excavator remained on standby to provide traffic control for Northwestel.

Parks Canada did not respond to requests for comment as of publication time.

Whitlock said DOT takes addressing sinkholes seriously due to a history of the geological formations destroying entire sections of the highway, especially in the park.

“Over the years, some have opened up on the side of the highway and (gone) right into the road bed, so I guess whenever a sinkhole does open up along that highway, the department and Wood Buffalo need to take a very diligent and proactive approach to getting out there and addressing it,” he said.

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