For O.J. Callahan, the power outage is not just making him and his Miami Gardens neighbors uncomfortably hot, it’s a safety issue.
Callahan says he and his neighbor have been reporting a downed power line in his neighbor’s backyard since Sunday, which apparently was downed by a toppling avocado tree that is now blocking access to the neighbor’s house, too. Callahan’s entire block, where many elderly, including his 75-year-old mother, live lost power at 2 p.m. Sunday as Hurricane Irma’s winds whipped South Florida, he said. FPL has yet to respond.
“People’s health are at risk here,” Callahan said. “We need a better response from FPL than ‘we have no estimated time.’ Until someone is electrocuted?”
He said he was alerted by FPL on Monday that a crew was on the way and had even arrived. But it never came. “Where are all the trucks?” he said. “We haven’t seen any in Miami Gardens.”
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He was asked by FPL to re-enter his outage information, which apparently started the process again. He was happy to hear that a colleague in Aventura got power restored but can’t help but wonder if there’s a pecking order because it’s a wealthier community.
Callahan is far from alone in his frustration with mixed messages from FPL, including a website and app that aren’t always working. Customers across South Florida took to Twitter to vent their frustrations as they endured a fourth day without electricity.
The good news: In South Florida, more than 425,000 households had their power restored in the past 24 hours, including parts of Miami, Miami Beach and Coral Gables, according to reports. FPL CEO Eric Silagy said on Tuesday that all or nearly all power should be restored on the east coast of Florida, including Miami-Dade, by the end of this weekend.
As of 7 p.m. Wednesday in Miami-Dade, 378,850 customers had outages out of 1.1 million customers in total, according to FPL. In Broward, 284,800 had no power out of 933,300, and in Palm Beach 261,680 of 739,000 were out. That’s about 925,000 homes and businesses without power, about a third of FPL’s customers in the tri-county area.
On Tuesday, Silagy asked for patience. FPL is restoring power first to critical services, such as hospitals, police and emergency operations, and next to large commercial areas. Then come the neighborhoods.
To be sure, massive power outages are statewide, involving regions served by a number of utilities. As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, 3.3 million homes and businesses remained without power statewide, more than 31 percent of the 10.5 million electric accounts in Florida. That’s down about 3.4 million, though, from the peak outage reported by the state of more than 6.7 million accounts — 64.2 percent of the state — at 4:40 p.m. Monday.
Along with outage information, FPL posted on its website: “Communication systems across Florida were impacted by Irma, causing issues with our systems. If our system displays, you have power and you don’t, please report it. We apologize for any issues you may experience.”
FPL spokesman Bill Orlove said that because of extraordinary traffic, FPL’s website has been down some of the time. He said customers can reach FPL by calling 1-800-4OUTAGE. Customers with downed power lines should call 911 first, then FPL, he said.
He explained that FPL has a detailed restoration plan, worked out ahead of time with local officials, that calls for moving first to restore power to critical operations such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, communications facilities and waste treatment plants. It’s also focusing first on areas with a large number of groceries, gas stations and pharmacies to provide supplies that people need. Along the way, thousands of customers who live near these areas will also be getting power, he said.
After that, FPL moves into the neighborhoods. A neighborhood of 150 homes, for example, may be fed power by several lateral lines. There could be a problem with one line and not another, which could explain why the houses across the street have power and you don’t. There also could be a problem with the service drop to your particular home, which could explain why your next door neighbor has power and you are still in the dark. In both cases, “let us know so that we can investigate,” Orlove said.
Orlove said people only need to report an outage if their neighbors have power, but they do not, because this signals very localized problems. If your whole block is still out, no need to report it: “We know where the outages are and are restoring service safely and as quickly as possible,” he said.
Carlos Alex Rodriguez said he has called FPL to report his outage on NE Third Avenue and North Miami Beach five times and would call again. He said all his neighbors have power and his home does not.
With elderly parents and a houseful of his brother’s children living under his roof, he said, “I feel like the world has ended. I don’t know what to do.”
This report will be updated. Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.