Millions Remain Without Power After Hurricane Irma Swept Across Florida

Sep 11, 2017
Originally published on September 11, 2017 8:16 pm
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As Hurricane Irma battered Florida's coast before moving into Georgia, it also spawned tornadoes and caused widespread flooding. That has left more than 6 and a half million homes and businesses across the state without electricity, one of the biggest power outages in the country's history.

NPR's Brakkton Booker reports that utility companies are at work to restore power but predict that some will go without it for weeks to come.


BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Utility crews around Florida are starting to clear tree limbs that fell on power lines during Irma. Tallahassee resident William Pittman has been through Florida hurricanes before, so he wasn't surprised to wake up Monday morning with no power in his house.

WILLIAM PITTMAN: Our lights have been out, went out at about 4:30 this morning, and they're still out.

BOOKER: He also knows the power could be out for some time. That's why he hasn't opened his refrigerator yet. He's not taking any chances.

PITTMAN: I want to keep my food, you know, frozen and, what's in the refrigerator, keep it cold so that my food don't ruin.

BOOKER: Millions of residents in Florida are eagerly awaiting electricity to come back on. For many, that will be the first step to moving past Irma. Florida Power and Light, or FPL, is the state's largest utility. President and CEO Eric Silagy says Irma knocked out power to 5 million of FPL's customers. Some customers lost power more than once. He called the scope unprecedented.

ERIC SILAGY: We've never had that many outages. I don't think any utility in the country ever has. It is by far and away the largest in the history of our company.

BOOKER: FPL has spent more than $2 billion to harden and strengthen its electric grid since the 2005 storm season that included Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Still, before Irma hit, utility officials had predicted that much of the grid may have to be rebuilt. On Monday as Irma moved inland, utility officials said they were still surveying the extent of the damage. FPL's president asked for patience.

SILAGY: People could be out of power for weeks, particularly if there's structural damage. It absolutely could be weeks if we have to rebuild parts of the system.

BOOKER: Utility crews from around the country are headed to Florida to help in the restoration efforts. Silagy compared FPL's 19,000 crew members to an army that's ready to deploy. The crews will focus on critical infrastructure like hospitals and police stations. Again, FPL's president...

SILAGY: We'll be focused on areas where we know it's important for people to be able to get their lives back up as quickly as possible and get food, get gasoline, banks so they can get cash. And we'll work to get some of those areas up as quickly as possible as well.

BOOKER: Other utilities across the state are working to restore power, too. Duke Energy had nearly 1.3 million customers without electricity. In Tallahassee where the effects of Irma, now a tropical storm, are still being felt, some 29,000 customers remain in the dark. The city has its own power grid.

Kevin Peters is the Emergency Management Director for Leon County, which includes the state's capital. He tells member station WFSU they're worried about dangerous conditions and plan to ramp up restoration efforts tomorrow.

KEVIN PETERS: That's when a bulk of our resources can really get out there work from sunup to after sundown on Tuesday, and we can have full day's work at cleaning up the mess left behind by Irma.

BOOKER: Like many areas in Florida, an overnight curfew has been put in place in Tallahassee. Officials warn that conditions remain treacherous with traffic signals offline and downed power lines. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.