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