By Nancy Dahlberg and Susan Salisbury
September 10, 2017 9:06 AM
In Hurricane Irma’s destructive wake, does anyone still have power?
More than 2 million homes and businesses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were without power Sunday evening after Hurricane Irma assaulted the lower Florida Keys and thrashed South Florida. And for those home and business owners, the wait could be several days or longer for electricity to be restored, said executives with Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility.
By evening, Irma cut the power to 3 million FPL customers across the state and more outages were expected as the storm was tracking up the west coast of Florida, FPL executives said Sunday at the company’s command center.
Roughly 17,000 line and vegetation workers are prepared to begin full-scale restoration efforts on Monday, FPL’s CEO and President Eric Silagy said. The repairs and restoration are forecast to take more than 1 million man hours, but the cost cannot be calculated yet.
“We are not going to bed here. We are working 24/7,” Silagy said. “This is a monster.”
Still, he said, power has already been restored to many customers because of advancements in technology. “Despite Irma's exceedingly high winds, tornadic activity, storm surge and severe flooding, FPL has restored power to hundreds of thousands of customers, due largely to automation along its energy grid.”
Once the impact of tornadoes, which can cause structural damage, wind and storm surge are known, the damage assessment should take about 48 hours, Silagy said.
“This is the hardest part of the storm for us. We know what our customers are going through,” Silagy said. “By the time the storm clears, some people will have been out for a day, and we haven't even been able to roll a truck.”
At 6 p.m. in Miami-Dade, 888,530 didn’t have power out of a total 1.1 million customers, according to FPL’s outage data. That’s four out of every five homes and businesses in the county, a total that has surged in the last 12 hours.
Broward’s outages have also spiked, as hurricane force gusts began being felt in the county. In Broward, more than two-thirds of FPL’s customers — 666,380 out of 933,300 — were without power. FPL reported that Palm Beach County had 458,840 out of 739,000 customers were impacted by outages.
Multiple outages were common, too. Some customers who experienced outages Saturday and had their power restored lost power again on Sunday.
For many residents, it will now be a hot and frustrating waiting game because FPL crews couldn’t work to restore power in winds of 35 mph or higher. “When you don't have power, the sight of an FPL truck on your street is everything,” tweeted Barbara Vyse, whose family lost power after Hurricane Andrew for a month.
Elaine Duke, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told the Miami Herald she expects power could be out for weeks across Florida after Hurricane Irma passes. “The major area of concern with this storm is the wind damage, especially with the electrical system,” Duke said by phone from Washington D.C. Power outages also complicate relief efforts, Duke noted.