Like a military operation, Florida Power & Light’s massive effort to get the lights back on has launched.
For the largest utility in the state, the post-Hurricane Irma restoration effort includes battling at least 5 million outages in 35 counties, the largest impact ever for the utility. Its army includes 19,500 workers, including crews from other utilities outside the state, and that is growing. FPL has activated 30 staging sites, each a mini-city to support and supply its workers, FPL CEO Eric Silagy said.
“I promise you, we will not stop working until every customer has power,” Silagy said at a press conference Monday at FPL’s command center.
South Floridians want to know: When will power be restored?
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“People need to be prepared for extended outages — weeks,” Silagy said.
By evening Monday, 1.86 million homes homes and businesses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were without power after Hurricane Irma’s assault. Silagy said there is no need to report your outage: “With our smart technology, we know where the outages are. Call your loved ones instead and tell them you are safe.”
Trucks of line and vegetation workers were dispatched before dawn from BB&T Center in Sunrise, each with specific instructions on what areas to restore according to FPL’s detailed priority plan, while drones and helicopters were collecting real-time data on heavily damaged and flooded areas. The repairs and restoration are forecast to take more than 1 million man hours, but the cost cannot be calculated yet.
On Monday, Silargy said crews had already restored power to 1 million customers throughout the state, but some customers are being hit with multiple outages. So far, he said, FPL has not seen structural damage in its critical infrastructure, but that could change as its assessment continues.
At 5 p.m. Monday in Miami-Dade, where the most outages occurred, 782,900 of FPL’s 1.1 million customers were experiencing an outage, according to FPL’s outage data.
In Broward, nearly three-quarters of FPL’s customers — 601,370 out of 933,300 — were without power. FPL reported that Palm Beach County had 481,020 out of 739,000 customers impacted by outages.
In total, power was restored to about 350,000 customers in the tri-county area since Irma passed on Sunday evening.
FPL trucks were seen rolling throughout the region, including in Southwest Miami-Dade County, where FPL contractors worked to restore power to a neighborhood Monday afternoon. As two workers repaired a main power line damaged by a fallen tree, a third flew a drone overhead to take photos and assess the damage.
Efforts to restore power started even while the storm was battering South Florida, with workers venturing out between bands of weather, spokeswoman Florencia Contesse said. The workers fixing the power line in the Country Walk area were contractors with Pike, a North Carolina-based company. Others came from as far away as New York and California.
Trucks were also rolling in Homestead, which had gone completely dark. About 90 percent of that city was still without electricity Monday morning, but officials were working with FPL to prioritize Homestead Hospital, the police stations and elder-care facilities.
That’s according to FPL’s recovery plan. Silagy said FPL will start with “critical facilities” such as hospitals, police and fire stations, communication facilities, water treatment plants and transportation providers. Next the focus will be on restoring power to “the largest number of customers in the shortest amount of time — including service to major thoroughfares that host supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other needed community services.” Then FPL will move on to smaller areas of outages.
He stressed patience. “We have a very disciplined process; otherwise it would be chaos,” Silagy said.
If it’s any consolation, the Sunshine State is in this together. More than 6.5 million customers — nearly two-thirds of Floridians — had no power as of noon Monday, according to state emergency management officials. That includes customers of other utilities in Florida.
Stay off the roads as much as you can and if you see FPL trucks, yield to them if possible to speed recovery, he advised. “Every hour counts.”
FPL employees will always carry an FPL photo ID badge, be in FPL trucks, and will never need to enter your home.
Silagy also warned residents to stay away from downed power lines. If you see a downed power line, call 911 or 800-4OUTAGE.
This report will be updated frequently. Miami Herald staff writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.
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