In the wake of Ian, Florida residents brave a slow wait for power

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. – Almost a week later Hurricane Ian Striking in Florida and cutting a path of destruction into the Carolinas, more than half a million residents across the state faced another day without power on Tuesday as rescuers continued their search for those trapped in flooded homes persistent floods.

At least 78 people have been confirmed dead from the storm: 71 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba since Ian landed on the Caribbean island on September 27, and in Florida a day later.

Search and rescue efforts were still ongoing in Florida, where more than 1,600 people were rescued statewide.

But for many Florida residents, restoring power has become the number one priority.

In the city of Naples on Monday, Kelly Sedgwick was watching news images of the devastation Ian had wreaked thanks to the restoration of power four days after the hurricane hit her southwest Florida community. Meanwhile, in the nearby town of Bonita Springs, Catalina Mejilla was still using a borrowed generator to try and keep her children and grandfather cool while they waited for her power to return.

Ian turned off the power to 2.6 million customers across Florida as 150 mph (241 km/h) winds slammed onto land, triggering a powerful storm surge.

Since then, the crews have been working feverishly to restore the power supply infrastructure. State officials said they expect power to be restored by Sunday for customers whose power lines and other electrical infrastructure are still intact.

About 520,000 Florida homes and businesses were still without power as of Monday night — a quantity equivalent to nearly all Rhode Island customers.

It was a boon to those who regained power. Sedgwick said she was “relieved” to regain her strength and commended the crews for their hard work: “You’ve done a remarkable job.”

But for those who still waited, it was a difficult drudgery.

“The heat is unbearable,” said Mejilla. “If there’s no electricity…we can’t cook food, we don’t have gas.” Her mother has trouble breathing and had to go to a friend who had electricity. “I think they should give power to the people who need it most.”

Eric Silagy, chairman and CEO of Florida Power & Light — the state’s largest utility — said he understood the frustrations and said crews were working as hard as they could to restore power as quickly as possible. The utility expects to have power restored to 95% of its service areas by the end of Friday, he said.

A spokesman for the utility said the remaining 5% is mostly made up of cases where a special situation makes it difficult to restore power, e.g. B. if the house is so damaged that it does not receive electricity, or the area is still flooded. These outages do not include customers whose homes or businesses have been destroyed.

Another major electric utility in the hard-hit coastal region — the Lee County Electric Cooperative — said Monday it expected to hit the 95% mark by the end of Saturday. This figure does not include barrier islands such as Sanibel located in its coverage area.

Restoring power is always a major challenge after major hurricanes, when high winds and flying debris can bring down power lines that distribute electricity to homes, or in more severe storms, damage large parts of electrical infrastructure such as transmission lines or power generation.

Silagy said the utility has invested $4 billion over the past 10 years to strengthen its infrastructure by doing things like burying more power lines, noting that 40% of its distribution system is now underground. The utility is also using more technology, like drones that can stay aloft for hours to get a better picture of damage to the system, and sensors on substations that can alert them to flooding so they can shut down parts of the system before it happens the water arrives.

Silagy said he saw during Ian where those investments paid off. In Fort Myers Beach, for example, where so many homes and businesses have been wiped away, concrete poles still stand, he said. Silagy said the company also didn’t lose a single transmission structure in Florida’s 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers).

Meanwhile, rescue and recovery efforts across Florida remained difficult. In DeSoto County, northeast of Fort Myers, the Peace River and its tributaries reached record highs, and boats were the only way to get supplies to many of the county’s 37,000 residents.

Ian has washed away bridges and roads to several offshore islands. About 130 Florida Department of Transportation trucks have begun construction of a temporary bridge to Pine Island, and by the end of the week a structure should be complete for drivers to carefully cross at slow speeds, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference on Monday.

The governor said a similar temporary bridge is planned for nearby Sanibel but will take more time.

Elsewhere the hurricane leftoversnow a Nor’easter, weren’t done with the US yet

The mid-Atlantic and northeastern coasts got torrential rains. The storm’s onshore winds piled even more water into an already flooded Chesapeake Bay.

Norfolk and Virginia Beach declared states of emergency, although a change in wind direction on Monday prevented potentially catastrophic readings, said Cody Poche, a weather forecaster with the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Virginia

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden plan to visit Florida on Wednesday. The President was in Puerto Rico on Monday and vowed to “rebuild everything” afterwards. Hurricane Fiona collapsed all energy two weeks ago on the island.

Meanwhile, many residents in Florida neighborhoods that still don’t have electricity share generators to keep things like refrigerators cool and use outdoor grills to cook food.

In Bonita Springs, Paula Arbuckle sat in front of her one-story house while the generator roared under her carport. She bought a generator after Hurricane Irma hit the area in 2018, leaving her neighborhood without power. She hasn’t used it since, but after Ian turns off the light, she shares it with her neighbor. Arbuckle said it was hard being without power.

“But I’m not the only one,” she said. Pointing to her neighbor’s house, she said, “I have a generator. They have a little baby over there. So we share the generator between the two houses.”


Associated Press reporter Bobby Caina Calvan in Fort Meyers; Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee; Frieda Frisaro and David Fischer in Miami; Ben Finley of Norfolk, Virginia; and Jeffrey Collins of Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.


For more AP coverage of Hurricane Ian:

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. In the wake of Ian, Florida residents brave a slow wait for power

Sarah Y. Kim

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