As Hurricane Irma’s 130 mph winds, rain and tornadoes slashed and battered South Florida Sunday, Florida Power & Light Co. officials could only watch and double-check restoration plans as the outage numbers climbed throughout the day.
HURRICANE IRMA: Get the latest news and information on the storm
Monday, that all changed as an army of workers were deployed in what is forecast to be a weeks-long full-scale restoration. It’s the largest power restoration force in the company’s and the nation’s history — close to 18,000 vegetation, line and other workers from 30 states and Canada are focused on getting the power back on for millions of people.
The massive task is expected to take at least 1 million man hours.
“We may have to rebuild part of the grid. We won’t know that until we assess the damage,” FPL spokesman Bryan Garner said Monday. “We are not waiting to assess the damage to restore power.”
Garner said customers should keep connected with FPL on the mobile app and on FPL.com/powertracker.
“If you have reported your outage, you get the latest information we have. That will be an evolving situation. Some have been restored automatically due to smart grid technology and others were restored by crews when the wind was below 35 mph,” Garner said.
Irma’s outages have surpassed Wilma’s 3.2 million customer accounts — or meters — that didn’t have power at some point.
Monday morning, more than 3.6 million FPL customer accounts had no power, and more than 926,000 had been restored.
Double that to estimate the number of people, and that means 9 million in FPL’s 35-county territory have experienced a power loss.
“The thing that is unique about this storm is that it has touched the entire state, so we are deploying our restoration force all across the peninsula right now,” Garner said.
“We have nearly 30 staging sites, some are already up and running. The others we are establishing today. We have thousands of trucks moving into affected areas to restore power even as we assess damage,” Garner said.
“This is a monster,” Eric Silagy, FPL’s CEO and president, said Sunday as a 55-inch screen showed Irma covering most of Florida and some of Georgia. He said then that will take 24 to 48 hours to assess damage from storm surge and wind.
Even at the company’s own 10,000-square-foot Category 5-hardened command center, the power flickered on and off a few times, and the facility’s power was switched to a generator
Damage will be assessed using drones, helicopters and field workers who will be on the ground and equipped with hand-held devices.
Silagy said it’s way too early to come up with a cost estimate. Once the storm is gone, the damage assessment should take 48 hours, but there are always surprises where a damage is worse than expected.
“The assessment is never perfect. You are doing your best to get an accurate assessment. Until you actually get on the ground, it’s hard.
On Florida’s East Coast, the job will be mostly restoration and repairs but on its West Coast, the task will include rebuilding and replacing hundreds or thousands of poles and miles and miles of line.
While FPL has spent close to $3 billion on strengthening its grid to withstand winds of up to 145 mph in many places, no grid is completely storm-proof. It hasn’t helped that in the hard-hit Southern portion of Florida, there has not been a major storm to give the state’s vegetation a “haircut.”
“We are seeing a lot of tree damage and debris,” Manuel “Manny” Miranda, senior vice president for power delivery said in a Sunday meeting with FPL division chiefs at the company’s Riviera Beach command center.
Silagy said the crews’ safety comes first, and he doesn’t want anyone risking his or her life to become a hero.
“This is the hardest part of the storm for us. We know the impact our customer are going through. We can see the numbers climbing. It’s frustrating we can’t do more right now,” Silagy said Sunday.