Florida residents brave the slow wait for power after Ian

BONITA SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) — Nearly a week after Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida and carved a path of destruction that reached the Carolinas, more than half a million residents of across the state faced another day without power on Tuesday as rescuers continued their search. trapped inside houses flooded by the lingering floodwaters.

At least 78 people have been confirmed dead by the storm: 71 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba since Ian made landfall 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 across the state.

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

In the city of Naples, Kelly Sedgwick had just seen news footage Monday of the devastation caused by Ian, thanks to power that was restored four days after the hurricane hit her southwest Florida community. Meanwhile, in nearby Bonita Springs, Catalina Mejilla was still using a borrowed generator to try to keep her children and their grandfather cool while they waited for their power to return.

Ian knocked out power to 2.6million customers across Florida when he roared ashore with 150mph (241kph) winds and caused a powerful storm surge.

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Since then, the teams have been working feverishly to restore the electrical 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 Monday night — an amount nearly equal to all customers in Rhode Island.

For those receiving power, it was a blessing. Sedgwick said she was “relieved” to have her power back and praised the crews for their hard work: “They did an amazing job.”

But for those who were still waiting, it was a difficult chore.

“The heat is unbearable,” Mejilla said. “When there’s no electricity…we can’t make food, we don’t have gasoline.” Her mother is having trouble breathing and had to go to a friend’s house who had electricity. “I think they should empower the people who need it most.”

Eric Silagy, president and CEO of Florida Power & Light – the state’s largest electricity provider – said he understands the frustrations and said crews are working as hard as possible to restore power as soon as possible. The utility expects power to be restored to 95% of its service areas by the end of the day Friday, he said.

A utility spokesperson said the remaining 5% mainly includes cases where there is a particular situation that makes it difficult to restore power, such as the house being so damaged that it cannot be powered or the area still flooded. . These outages do not include customers whose homes or businesses were destroyed.

Another major electricity supplier in the hard-hit coastal region – Lee County Electric Cooperative – said on Monday it expects to hit the 95% mark by the end of Saturday. This figure does not include barrier islands like Sanibel which are within its service area.

Restoring power is always a major challenge after major hurricanes when high winds and flying debris can knock down power lines that deliver electricity to homes or, in more severe storms, damage significant parts of the 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 their distribution system is now underground. . The utility is also using more technology such as drones that can stay in the air for hours to get a better picture of system damage, and sensors in substations that can alert them to flooding. so they can turn off parts of the system before the water comes.

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 out, concrete utility poles still stand, he said. Silagy said the company has also not lost a single transmission structure in the 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers) it has through Florida.

Meanwhile, rescue and salvage 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 supply many of the county’s 37,000 residents.

Ian took bridges and roads to several barrier islands. About 130 trucks from the Florida Department of Transportation have begun building a temporary bridge to Pine Island and by the end of the week they should be finished on a structure that drivers can cross carefully at low speeds, said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at a news conference on Monday.

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

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Elsewhere, remnants of the hurricane, now a northeast, weren’t done with the United States

The mid-Atlantic and northeast coasts were receiving torrential rains. Onshore winds from the storm piled even more water into an already flooded Chesapeake Bay.

Norfolk and Virginia Beach have declared states of emergency, although a change in wind direction prevented potentially catastrophic levels on Monday, said Cody Poche, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wakefield, Va.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden plan to visit Florida on Wednesday. The president was in Puerto Rico on Monday, vowing to “rebuild everything” after Hurricane Fiona knocked out all power to the island two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, in Florida neighborhoods still without power, many residents are sharing generators to keep things like refrigerators cool and using outdoor grills to cook.

In Bonita Springs, Paula Arbuckle sat outside her two-story home as the sound of the generator under her carport sounded. She bought a generator after Hurricane Irma hit this area in 2018 and left her neighborhood without power. She hasn’t used it since then, but after Ian turns off the lights, she shares it with her next door neighbor. Arbuckle said it was hard to be 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 there. So we share the generator between the two houses.


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