Tropical Storm Isaac leaves 62,000 without power in South Florida

Kathy de la Rosa thought Isaac was over when she reopened her cushion factory in Hialeah on Monday morning. Then shortly after lunch, the lights went out.

“We thought, ‘Ok, we dodged a bullet again,’ ’’ de la Rosa recalled as her six employees started their shifts at Miami Prestige Interiors. “Everybody showed up for work. It was good.”

But as business closed Monday afternoon, de la Rosa was still relying on a generator to keep workers finishing an order due this week for a yacht. Hers was a familiar twist on post-storm South Florida Monday: waking up with electricity as the storm moved away from Miami, but ending the day without it.

Florida Power and Light reported 18,000 people were out of power Sunday night as Isaac made its way through the Florida Keys, but nearly 62,000 out of power late in the early evening Monday in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. The statistics added evidence that Isaac’s remnants packed significant winds and rain — a phenomenon clear to anyone outside during South Florida’s soaked, stormy Monday.

“It was a lot worse today than it was yesterday,’’ said Andrew Kraus, whose Hollywood home was one of about 20 in his neighborhood without electricity Monday. The lights went out around 1 p.m. in his Hayes Street home. As sunset approached Kraus said he had not seen any utlitity crews.

His main concern: his 3-year-old daughter, who didn’t seem to be processing life without electricity. “All she knows is there is no Shaun the Sheep on TV,’’ he said. “She doesn’t get it yet that she’s going to have a cold bath tonight.”

The lingering storm continued knocking branches into power lines throughout Monday, while also complicating FPL’s repair efforts. Crews manning bucket trucks and working on lines must come down when wind gusts exceed 35 mph, and Isaac’s trailing bands contained winds that strong throughout Monday.

In all, about 293,000 FPL customers lost power from Isaac, but more than 215,000 saw their power restored by midday Monday, according to FPL. The numbers fluctuated with updated reports, but the outages dropped throughout the afternoon. The morning reports had about 74,000 people without power, and that number peaked at 77,000 in the afternoon before dipping down to 62,000 by 6 p.m..

When it comes to power outages, some customers get speedier service than others. Homes and businesses sharing power lines with hospitals will likely see power restored first, since large medical facilities are near the top of FPL’s priority list when it comes to deploying crews. (The top: power plants and substations.) Also near the top: police and fire stations, grocery stores, gas stations and banks with ATMs. From there, FPL looks for areas with the most customers out of power, FPL spokesman Richard Gibbs said.

In the Florida Keys, which are served by the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Keys Energy Services, about 7,800 customers lost power from Isaac, but that almost all had been restored as of Monday afternoon.

The mainland outages come as FPL is seeking a rate increase from state regulators. The publicly traded utility touts its ability to provide dependable electricity while spending less than competitors on maintenance and operations. Lewis Hay, CEO of FPL parent Nextera Energy, wrote in the company’s most recent annual report that FPL “had a very good year keeping operations and maintenance (O&M) costs low, and reliability high.”

Hay said FPL, which made $1 billion in profits last year, spent 1.64 cents on operations and maintenance for every kilowat hour sold, versus the industry average of 2.28 cents. He also wrote that FPL’s operations allowed the company to provide the “lowest electricity bill in Florida” for customers. A 2010 review of Florida’s large for-profit utilities found FPL customers on average waited 77 minutes to see their power restored, which was the quickest of the five providers.

On Monday, FPL spokesman Gibbs said investments in technology let FPL reduce costs without impacting service. “We’re just more efficient,’’ he said.

But Isaac brought a new challenge to FPL’s operations. With only a side blow from a tropical storm, some FPL customers were frustrated to be left without power — or any information on when it would return.

“This is ridiculous. It was a nothing storm,’’ James Clavijo, a finance executive in Miami Beach, wrote in an email after The Miami Herald requested reports from readers without electricity. Jose Castillo also responded, saying his Little Havana apartment complex on SW 10th Street lost power sometime Sunday night and hadn’t been restored by late afternoon Monday.

“My wife called FPL [and] was told it had been reported. So far we are way past 12 hours with no power,’’ he wrote. “No emergency lights at all. And it’s almost like a ghost town.”

Gibbs, the FPL spokesman, said more than 4,000 utility workers have responded to Isaac in South Florida. He said the utility could not say when power would be restored for most of the customers who lost electricity. He also urged customers not to assume they were being ignored.

“A lot of people get misled by not seeing a truck in their neighborhood,’’ he said. “I can tell you there are a ton of people working behind the scenes to get power restored.”

WLRN-Miami Herald reporter Kenny Malone contributed to this report.

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