Power should be back online by the end of the weekend for people on Florida’s east coast, Florida Power & Light said Tuesday.
For west coast Floridians slammed by Hurricane Irma, though, it could be a long hot, end-of-summer: Power isn’t expected to be fully restored until Sept. 22.
And on both coasts, there is a caveat to those estimates. Tornado damage, severe flooding and damage to homes could all cause further delays.
As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 353,850 FPL customers in Palm Beach County that Irma left without power were still unplugged. Another 326,940 had gotten power back.
Statewide, 2.5 million FPL customers remained without power.
“At the end of the day, we will get the lights back on,” said FPL Chief Communications Officer Rob Gould, who asked frustrated customers to “please be patient with us.”
“We know it is going to be very uncomfortable.”
It’s not just FPL customers. On Sunday night, a crucial connection to FPL’s grid went down, and all 27,000 customers of Lake Worth Utilities’ electrical system went dark. Only a fraction of customers, 3,500, had power restored by 2 p.m. Tuesday; prompting some frustrated residents to call for an overthrow of city hall.
But the number of people getting power back is growing by the hour.
In the roughly 30 minutes it took for Gould to brief reporters Tuesday, the number of FPL customers statewide without power had dropped from 2.8 million to 2.7 million.
Earlier that morning, the number of Palm Beach County customers without power dropped by 3,000 in two hours.
Still, Gould cautioned that people should not be fixated on numbers.
For one thing, some customers celebrating the return of electricity may temporarily lose it — again — in order for FPL crews to finish repairs.
Repairs are moving more quickly than in the wake of Hurricane Wilma in 2005. That may partly be due to the 20,000 workers from 30 states and Canada hammering away at getting FPL’s system fully up and running.
Gould also credits FPL’s $3 billion initiative designed to harden its system. Wooden poles were replaced with cement ones, and more poles were added, shortening the length of lines vulnerable to debris.
Credit a bit of luck, too. Gould said much of Irma’s damage stems from trees falling onto lines, not from damage to substations, which would have called for more extensive repairs.
Some of the company’s generators are offline, most notably the Turkey Point nuclear power plant, but none was shut down from storm damage, he said. Turkey Point will be reopened, though FPL will not provide a date. There was no damage to the nuclear reactor, said Gould, and he knew of no other damage that might be critical to the plant’s operation.
Lake Worth’s Kerr was similarly optimistic.
“There’s going to be more of these big chunks happening over the next couple days,” he said, after several hundred residents in west Lake Worth got their power back Tuesday afternoon.
For the thousands in Palm Beach County still waiting, it can’t happen soon enough: On Wednesday, the heat index is expected to hit 106.
Noting that most hurricane fatalities occur after the storm has passed, Florida Power and Light asked customers to take safety measures as the utility works to bring back power:
- Plug appliances directly into a generator, not into the home’s electric system. That can create “backfeed” which is dangerous to repair workers.
- Do not use generators inside garages and do not place them near windows or doors.
- Beware of puddles. Small pools of water may be near a live wire.