Two weeks ago, Hurricane Irma, one of the largest and most powerful storms ever to hit Florida, slowly made its way up through the state over the course of nearly two days — pummeling almost every county with hurricane and tropical storm-force winds, tornadoes, and storm surge. Irma left substantial damage, including extensive flooding in some areas, widespread damage from fallen trees and debris, and power outages for millions of Floridians. But together, we are ensuring that Florida comes back stronger than ever.
So many have played important roles in Florida’s preparation and response efforts that it is impossible to recognize them all. Gov. Rick Scott has been a tremendous leader, bringing everyone together before and after the storm and ensuring we were all focused on getting Florida back on its feet. Another critical partner is the network of first responders from the local, state and even federal level that have been working night and day to keep communities safe. These fearless men and women who manned their posts throughout the storm have been essential to restoration efforts across Florida, including search and rescue efforts, escorting vital response vehicles, and responding to fires and other emergencies.
It’s also been heartening to see the cooperation among the electric utilities as we work to restore power to more than 6 million customers. There are 55 electric utilities in Florida, and nearly every one was affected by Irma — that’s unprecedented in the state’s history. Every one of the 35 counties served by Florida Power & Light was affected; in fact, 90 percent of our customers lost power. Many of our sister utilities experienced similar challenges and harsh conditions, and we all worked around the clock to restore power to the vast majority of Floridians within one week of Irma’s passing.
It has been a massive restoration effort, but we have been able to call on each other for help. Whether it’s sending truckloads of power poles to help the Florida Keys get up and running; providing copper wiring or other materials that are in short supply; sharing drones and equipment to help complete damage assessments in inaccessible areas; or sending crews of restoration workers to help support another utility; together, Florida’s electric utilities worked together to help our customers’ lives return to normal.
I offer my gratitude and sincerest thanks to our restoration workforce of more than 28,000, our own FPL employees as well as many others who joined us from outside of Florida before the storm even hit so that they could get to work as soon as it was safe to do so. Most of these men and women left their homes and families to work tirelessly each day to restore power within 10 days to FPL’s more than 4.4 million customers affected by Irma. Our thanks is never enough — without all of you, this monumental restoration effort would never have been possible.
Finally, I thank our customers for their patience; we live and work here, too, and understand how frustrating it is to be without power. While this was the fastest restoration of the largest number of people by any one utility in U.S. history, we are not perfect, and we will continue to make improvements and incorporate lessons learned so that we are even better prepared for the next hurricane. For example, we understand that what our customers want to know more than anything else is when will their power come back on. Unfortunately we were not able to accurately and consistently provide the kind of detailed restoration estimates that our customers have come to expect from us year-round. We are going to get better and we’re already working on it.
Eric Silagy is president and CEO of Florida Power & Light Company.