Derrick Davis lost his cool when the power went out last Saturday night.
After a week with no electricity, he’s starting to lose his temper, too.
“People around here are getting depressed,” Davis said while standing in the front yard of a home on Southwest 114th Avenue in Goulds, where he rode out Hurricane Irma. “This is all government housing. There are lots of physically and mentally disabled people living in this area. Florida Power & Light was supposed to be prepared for a catastrophic storm. They can do better than this.”
Although FPL had promised service to all of its 1.1 million residents in Miami-Dade would be restored by Sunday night, the company pushed back its self-imposed deadline to Tuesday evening for homes and businesses south of Miller Drive, impacting everyone without power in Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Goulds, Florida City and the rest of the southern part of the county.
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As of 5 p.m. Saturday, 167,990 homes and businesses in Miami-Dade were still without power. In Broward, the number was down to 70,700.
Since Hurricane Irma, FPL has restored service to nearly 1.6 million customers in the two counties. But the remaining outages will take longer, because the repair work is more difficult, FPL said.
“Until you get out and put eyes on the actual outage, you don’t know the extent of the damage,” FPL spokesman Rob Gould said during a news conference in South Miami-Dade on Saturday. “What we’re seeing is that the damage is far more extensive than we expected.”
Gould said downed trees and foliage have been a consistent problem for repair crews, knocking down wires in areas that are difficult to reach.
He also pushed back on criticism that FPL wasn’t prepared for a storm of Irma’s magnitude.
“We’ve spent $3 billion to strengthen our infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve replaced wood poles with concrete poles. We did not lose a single pole in our system to the wind itself. We were ready for this storm.”
Some people disagree.
A sweaty Ethan Shapiro stood outside his home in Pinecrest on Saturday afternoon after an unsuccessful attempt to use a chain saw to remove some fallen trees from his property. Down the street, repair crews were operating front-end loaders and cranes to right a utility pole that had been leaning dangerously after being walloped by a large tree.
“It’s the most frustrating thing in the world,” Shapiro said. “We followed orders and evacuated, and then we come home to this mess. It’s terrible that FPL spends more money on public relations and fighting consumer solar amendments than they do on their infrastructure. It makes you feel like you can never take their word at face value again.”
Pinecrest Mayor Joseph M. Corradino issued a letter early Saturday morning warning of possible legal action after learning repairs would no longer be completed by Sunday. Coral Gables has already threatened to sue FPL for not restoring power quickly enough.
“FPL’s negligence has left us with inferior infrastructure,” Corradino wrote. “They were not prepared for recovery and left us for days without repair crews. The costs to the citizens of Pinecrest has been dear in discomfort, lost work and damage to property, health and safety.”
More than 21,000 FPL and out-of-state workers are in the midst of repair work, an operation that Gould described as “the largest mobilization in [FPL] history.” On Saturday, large trucks, vehicles and cranes rumbled throughout South Miami-Dade, causing occasional traffic jams and street closures. The whir of chain saws wafted through residential streets. Letters and fliers stuck out of overstuffed mailboxes at homes where residents had evacuated and not yet returned.
Despite the visible presence of repair crews, though, some FPL customers still felt abandoned. Yongtao Guan was skeptical, yet still in relatively good spirits, earlier this week when FPL promised he’d have power back by Sunday.
But the status on his online outage ticket at a home on Southwest 82nd Avenue says FPL is still assessing the cause of his power loss — nearly a week since the lights went out.
“That tells me that even though I have made them aware of the situation, they have not bothered to check it out,” Guan said. “You have to let the customer know what is happening, so you can plan in advance. I understand they are busy, but they can’t say they are still assessing the cause. That gives me the sense of being abandoned. Our area was not hit by tornadoes or flooding. They need to be held accountable for that.”
In Homestead, where most homes and businesses get their electrical power from a city utility, more than 20 percent of customers who went dark during Hurricane Irma remained without service as of Saturday, according to a report by the Florida Municipal Electric Association. That’s a marked improvement from Monday, when 90 percent of Homestead was without electricity.
But even though South Miami-Dade may be among the last to get its air-conditioning fix back, frustration is mounting in other parts of South Florida, too.
Paula Twitty Bushman, a U.S. Marine veteran, lives in Davie with her three adult children and is angry at FPL — even though they restored her power earlier this week. After Hurricane Irma, she reported a downed power line resting on her roof, which has metal edging.
She says FPL restored her electricity without repairing the line, leaving a potential fire and electrocution hazard. Despite calls to the fire department, the governor’s office and even FEMA, she said, no one has come out to perform the repairs.
“I would never expect FPL to shoot juice into a home with a power line that is only half-connected because it was yanked by the wind,” she said. “I never thought anyone could be that stupid. FPL acts like they’re God, because we have nobody to complain to about them. I have to keep myself calm, but I really want to use some of the words I learned in the Marine Corps.”
Herald Staff Writer Andres Viglucci contributed to this report.