Hurricane Ian on Sept. 28, 2022. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens
As Hurricane Ian makes its entrance on the Southwest coastline, Florida utility companies have already documented hundreds of thousands of homes without power due to impacts of the intense Category 4 storm. And some worry that efforts to get families back online could take days or even weeks.
Eric Silagy, CEO of one of Florida’s main power and utilities company — Florida Power & Light Company — said some 645,000 customers already have had their power knocked out in the last 12 hours.
For Duke Energy, another power company, some 37,000 customers have outages throughout Florida, according to an email sent to the Phoenix.
With the storm just making landfall, it is possible that more houses and businesses will go without power as Ian traverses the state. But questions abound: Who and how many people will lose power due to the storm? How long will it take to restore power for Floridians, and what does recovery look like?
In some areas, residents and business could face a long road to recovery amid flooding, human safety, and structural damage.
Who is currently without power?
FPL has a power outage map, showing what’s happening.
For southwest Collier County, where Ian has been ravaging the southwest Gulf Coast, nearly half of FPL customers are without power. That’s about 110,000 out of 229,000 customers.
And in Lee County, about 56 percent of FPL customers are without power — just under 163,000 customers out of 288,600 FPL customers.
As for Charlotte County, some 45,000 FPL customers are without power, compared to about 126,600 customers.
Of the 37,000 Duke Energy outages as of Wednesday afternoon, some 35,000 occurred in Pinellas County, according to an email to the Phoenix.
But the full extent of the power outages isn’t known, according to Silagy, with FPL.
“It’s too early. It’s literally just making landfall,” he said about Ian at an afternoon press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials. “Mother Nature is always unpredictable and every storm is different.”
He continued: “This is a catastrophic storm. There will be catastrophic damage across the entire system, not just for FPL. There are many other municipal utilities, cooperatives, and as the storm goes across the state, I would expect to see damage there as well,” said Silagy.
Water and electricity
According to the National Hurricane Center, Ian is expected to bring significant and life-threatening storm surges, peaking at between 12 to 18 feet in certain areas. In addition, about 12- 18 inches of rain is expected in Central and Northeast Florida.
Ana Gibbs, a communications staffer with Duke Energy, explained in a written statement that water is a concerning factor for getting Floridians powered back up.
“Based on this particular storm, the biggest concern is flooding. Some areas are expected to receive as much as two feet of rain,” she said. “Water and electricity do not mix. Customers who are flooded cannot have their electricity restored until it’s safe to do so.”
She added that previous restoration efforts have taken a few days.
“Every storm is different. While we learn from each and every storm, no two storms are the same. During Hurricane Irma, we were able to restore 1 million customers in about 3 days. However, as I mentioned above, the flooding and other weather conditions with this storm are examples of some of the challenges we face during restoration,” Gibbs said in an email to the Phoenix.
There is also a concern of ensuring the safety of the line workers too, as Silagy with FPL pointed out Wednesday.
“This is gonna take some time for us to be able to do the kind of assessments that are going to be necessary, particularly in Southwest Florida, where we’ve seen the kind of catastrophic damage that we expect. This is not going to be something that is easy to assess in just a few hours. We will have to go in to see what needs to be rebuilt,” Silagy said. “I think it’s important to remember that safety is always our number one priority. There will be many, many instances where it’s simply not safe to re-energize a home or business, because it has been structurally damaged.”
Repairs vs. Rebuild
While it is not yet clear just how bad the impact will be for power outages, Silagy said that he expects some restoration efforts could be much more difficult than typical power restoration.
“I want to be clear on this: there are sections of our service territory in Southwest Florida which we will not be able to repair, but that we are going to have to rebuild. With the storm surge and with these winds, there will be damage that is beyond repair, and will require a complete rebuild,” he said at the press conference.
“Repairing can be done often an hour or days. Rebuilding can take many days or weeks, and so we are preparing for that rebuilding effort as we speak.”
This was a concern initially brought up during an early press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis Wednesday morning, noting that the severity of the storm, which is teetering towards Category 5 sustained windspeeds, may damage overall power infrastructure.
“It’s also something that given the severity of this storm — there’s a difference between simply having a downed power line and repairing that, which you would do on normal types of storms, and then having major structural damage to the underlying electrical infrastructure. And when you have a Category 5 storm hitting, potentially, when you have massive storm surge that is going to interrupt most likely a lot of the underlying infrastructure,” DeSantis said at the morning news conference.
DeSantis then added:
“So the folks in those affected areas should just understand that if it’s as simple as simply just hooking up a few more power lines, and that’s what they’ll do. But in those areas that are gonna have the most severe impact it’s likely gonna require to have some reengineering, to have some structural fixes and that’s gonna require manpower — but it is just gonna take a little bit more time.”
DeSantis also noted that line workers need to have a safe environment in order to get powerlines back up and running.
“Once the storm hits and passes, it is gonna be a very hazardous environment,” DeSantis said earlier. “Still we’re gonna keep trying to get these guys (line workers) in to be able to do what they have to do. But, you know, they need to have a safe environment to work in too.”
Ahead of Hurricane Ian making landfall, DeSantis left Floridians with this:
“Understand this is not just a 48-hour ordeal. This is gonna be something that is gonna be there for days, and weeks, and months and, unfortunately, in some circumstances, even years.”
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