Irma power cuts put the heat on Florida

Waikato Times - - 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 the dark as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out trans­form­ers.

Gone were the cli­mate­con­trolled 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 Flor- ida’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 heat-re­lated, 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 one-third – or 6.4 mil­lion – res­i­dents re­mained with­out power in the Sun­shine State.

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 for in­vestor-owned elec­tric com­pa­nies.

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

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.

The com­pany said it 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. – 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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