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Monday, Sep 25, 2017
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Irma's wrath: more than half of Florida still in the dark

Much of Florida will be waking up to a second day in the dark Tuesday after Hurricane Irma's devastating slash through the state.

More than 13 million Floridians — 62 percent of the state — remained without power as of late Monday, state officials said. In Tampa Bay, some of the county numbers were even more jarring: 78 percent of Pinellas households were affected; 71 percent of Pasco; 62 percent of Hernando; 61 percent of Polk and 42 percent of Hillsborough.

Add it up and 1.15 million bay area households, or 61 percent, are grappling without power — outages that may stretch on more than a week for some even though thousands of technicians are pouring in from around the country to help.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

"We're seeing guys fly in from California, and coming from Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, that were all pre-deployed before the storm," said Mike Hyland, senior vice president of engineering with the American Public Power Association, a Washington D.C.-based utility trade group. Hyland anticipates a network of more than 50,000 workers are on their way to Florida, if they're not there already. "Utility companies across the country have raised their hands to help both with Harvey and Irma," he said.

While outages are typically reported in terms of a number of customers, a graphic displayed at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee at 6:30 p.m. tallied the individual count of 13 million to underscore the scope of the problem, with the worst outages centered in southwest Florida.

The most severe damage in Tampa Electric's coverage area happened in Polk County, spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said, where 207,316 people were left without power

 

UPDATES ON POWER OUTAGES

 

Duke Energy | TECO | Florida Power



 

About 1.2 million Duke Energy Florida customers lost power, with Pinellas County hit hardest.

As of 3 p.m., 420,000 Duke customers were still waiting to turn the lights back on.

Harry Sideris, president of Duke Energy Florida, said 9,000 extra utility workers have been dispatched to the company's service area of 35 counties. Of those, 3,000 are dedicated to Pinellas County.

"We have an army of people coming here," Sideris promised.

Still, Sideris cautioned during a Monday afternoon briefing, thousands of Pinellas County residents are facing "maybe a week or a little longer" without power.

Florida Power & Light, which provides electricity to metro areas in South Florida and elsewhere in the state, reported 3.6 million customers without power.

Many Texas residents are still without power weeks after Hurricane Harvey devastated the Houston and coastal areas of the state, Hyland said, as a reminder of just how long it can take to get back up and running.

After Hurricane Charley — which pummelled Charlotte County in 2004 as a Category 4 storm — some Floridians went without electricity for weeks. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, it took months.

"When you're a person without power, it's the worst feeling in the world. It's the first step toward normalcy," he said. "There are still people fighting the effects of Harvey and many people in Texas are still without power. Unfortunately Florida is going to be the same. It's too soon to say how long it will take. Crews are only just beginning to assess the damages."

Utility companies prioritize public safety when restoring power. That means hospitals, 911 call centers, law enforcement and water treatment plants are first in line. When it comes to residences, utility companies make repairs in areas that will have the greatest impact first. Duke Energy also takes into account the amount of time an area has been without power, a spokeswoman said.

"We do repairs that will restore the largest amount of customers in the shortest amount of time," said Jacobs with TECO.

As of noon Monday, Tampa Electric had dispatched 800 crew members in the field assessing damages and making repairs. An additional 3,000 technicians from out-of-state — some as far away as Nebraska, Wisconsin and New England — were on the ground already or on the way to help.

Both Tampa Electric and Duke pledged to keep working on restoration as long as it takes.

"We are committed to getting everyone's power on as quickly and safely as possible," said Ana Gibbs, Duke Energy spokeswoman. "We won't stop working until everyone's power is back on."

Times staff writers Divya Kumar and Mark Puente and Times/Herald Bureau reporter Kristen M. Clark contributed to this report. Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com. Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com.

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