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Residents wait outside the San Juan Island Library to get Internet access. (Library photo via San Juan Islander.)

Some people voluntarily cut themselves off from the Internet and smartphones periodically to reclaim their sanity, but what happens when thousands of people are forced to go without any access for days on end?

It’s enough to declare a state of emergency. That is what’s happening right now northwest of Seattle in San Juan County, a.k.a. the San Juan Islands, where an underwater fiber-optic cable was severed earlier this week, effectively cutting off data and phone service to the islands, home to more than 15,000 people.

No official word yet on how the cable was cut.

Banks and ATMs are closed, stores are unable to process credit or debit cards, and Internet and phone service are severely limited. At the San Juan Island Library, one of the few places with Internet access, people showed up in droves and lined up outside the door to try to connect.

It was like “some post-apocalyptic scene of people standing around with laptops, hungry for internets,” one person who was there told us via email, after returning from the San Juans and rejoining the connected world.

The Journal of the San Juan Islands has a running log of information, including this statement from State Sen. Kevin Ranker:

“It is confirmed that a deep water offshore cable was completely severed. CenturyLink has divers and an ROV (Remotely operated vehicle) on scene. The ultimate goal will be to replace the entire 14,000′ cable, but locating that length of fiber-optic cable will take time. In the meantime two more immediate actions are underway. First, CenturyLink is working with OPALCO to do a short term Ethernet fix so that our entire county would have 911 availability as soon as possible – maybe as soon as late today. Secondly, CenturyLink has identified 6,000 feet of cable that could be used as a temporary fix that would give all county residents all services.”

This afternoon the San Juan County Council officially declared a state of emergency.

“If you want a rustic getaway where you can feel sealed off from the mainland, this is a good weekend to do it,” says Rick Hughes, a San Juan County Councilmember, in this report from our news partner KING-TV.

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