Power cuts from Irma put heat on Flor­ida

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

UNITED STATES: In a state built on air con­di­tion­ing, mil­lions of Flor­ida res­i­dents now want to know: when will the power come back on?

Hur­ri­cane Irma’s march across Flor­ida and the south­east­ern US trig­gered one of the big­ger black­outs in the na­tion’s his­tory, plung­ing as many as 13 mil­lion peo­ple into dark­ness as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out trans­form­ers.

Gone were the cli­mate-con­trolled bub­bles that peo­ple rely on in Flor­ida’s swel­ter­ing heat and hu­mid­ity.

In Hol­ly­wood, Flor­ida, eight pa­tients at a swel­ter­ing nurs­ing home died af­ter Irma knocked out the air con­di­tion­ing, rais­ing fears yes­ter­day about the safety of Flor­ida’s 4 mil­lion se­nior cit­i­zens amid power out­ages that could last for days.

Hol­ly­wood po­lice chief Tom Sanchez said in­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieved the deaths at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre at Hol­ly­wood Hills were heatre­lated, and added: ‘‘The build­ing has been sealed off and we are con­duct­ing a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.’'

Mean­while, mil­lions who evac­u­ated ahead of the storm are now re­turn­ing to homes with­out elec­tric­ity.

They could face days or even weeks with lit­tle to ease the late­sum­mer stick­i­ness. By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, state emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that onethird – or 6.4 mil­lion – res­i­dents re­mained with­out power in the Sun­shine State.

‘‘Power, power, power,’' Flor­ida Gover­nor Rick Scott said re­cently. ‘‘The big­gest thing we’ve got to do for peo­ple is get their power back.’'

The Irma black­out is still much smaller than a 2003 out­age that put 50 mil­lion peo­ple in the dark.

More than 50,000 util­ity work­ers – some from as far away as Canada and Cal­i­for­nia – are re­spond­ing to the cri­sis, ac­cord­ing to the as­so­ci­a­tion of the na­tion’s in­vestor-owned util­i­ties.

‘‘The in­dus­try’s Irma re­sponse is one of the largest and most com­plex power restora­tion ef­forts in US his­tory,’' said Tom Kuhn of the Edi­son Elec­tric In­sti­tute, a lob­by­ing group that rep­re­sents all US in­vestorowned elec­tric com­pa­nies.

‘‘Given the size and strength, in­fras­truc­ture sys­tems will need to be re­built com­pletely in some parts of Flor­ida.’'

The state’s largest util­ity, Flor­ida Power & Light, said Irma caused the most wide­spread dam­age in the com­pany’s his­tory, af­fect­ing all 35 coun­ties in its ter­ri­tory – most of the state’s At­lantic coast, and the Gulf Coast south of Tampa.

The com­pany said it ex­pected to have the lights back on by the end of the week­end for the At­lantic coast. Cus­tomers in hard-hit neigh­bour­hoods in south­west Flor­ida, where the dam­age was much more ex­ten­sive, were ex­pected to get power re­stored within 10 days.

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the pub­lic’s frus­tra­tion, util­ity of­fi­cials said they were get­ting power back on faster than they did af­ter Hur­ri­cane Wilma hit the state 12 years ago. They had al­ready re­stored ser­vice to nearly 1.8 mil­lion cus­tomers.

Any dis­as­ter that wipes out elec­tri­cal ser­vice hits es­pe­cially hard in the South, where tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans rely on the co­coon of com­fort pro­vided by air con­di­tion­ing. With­out it, many cities could barely ex­ist, let alone pros­per.

There were signs on so­cial me­dia that some peo­ple were grow­ing an­gry and tired of wait­ing. Oth­ers had steeled them­selves for an ex­tended pe­riod with­out elec­tric­ity.

Stand­ing in front of a pro­duce cooler at a re­opened Publix gro­cery store in Naples, Missy Sieber said the worst thing about not hav­ing elec­tric­ity was not hav­ing air con­di­tion­ing.

‘‘It’s mis­er­ably hot,’' she said. ‘‘I don’t mind stand­ing in line here.’'

There’s no im­me­di­ate cool-off in sight. The fore­cast for the com­ing week in Naples and Mi­ami, for in­stance, calls for highs in the lower 30 de­grees C and lows barely fall­ing be­low 27C. Hu­mid­ity will hover above 70 per cent.

At Cen­tury Vil­lage in Pem­broke Pines, more than half of the res­i­den­tial build­ings were still with­out power yes­ter­day.

Res­cue crews from sev­eral area mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were go­ing door to door in 34C heat to per­form wel­fare checks, and a mas­sive wa­ter, ice and meal distri­bu­tion plan had al­ready been en­acted.

Two gen­er­a­tor in­ci­dents have oc­curred in Her­nando County. On Mon­day, a home was de­stroyed when a gen­er­a­tor caught fire. Yes­ter­day, a gen­er­a­tor left run­ning in­side a garage killed a dog and se­ri­ously in­jured an­other from car­bon monox­ide poi­son­ing.

In Ge­or­gia, more than 510,000 homes and busi­nesses re­mained with­out power yes­ter­day. Ge­or­gia Power said 95 per cent of its cus­tomers should have elec­tric­ity re­stored by Sun­day night, ex­cept for homes or busi­nesses too dam­aged to be re­con­nected.

Irma fol­lowed Texas’s Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, which cre­ated wide­spread out­ages. Some three weeks af­ter Har­vey, at least 10,700 cus­tomers in that state re­main with­out power. Many of those aere homes and busi­nesses that will have to un­dergo re­pairs be­fore they are ready to re­ceive elec­tric­ity again.

Back in Naples, Sieber and her hus­band and 9-year-old son have been us­ing a gen­er­a­tor to run a small air con­di­tioner in a bed­room at night.

‘‘It makes you count your bless­ings,’' she said. – AP

PHOTO: REUTERS

Eight elderly res­i­dents died at the Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion Cen­tre at Hol­ly­wood Hills, north of Mi­ami, af­ter the power was cut dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma.

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