FPL: Most power back by week­end

Un­til then, some might re­gain power only to lose it again, util­ity warns.

The Palm Beach Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Pat Beall

Power should be back by the end of the week­end for peo­ple on Florida’s east coast, Florida Power & Light said Tues­day.

For west coast Florid­i­ans slammed by Hur­ri­cane Irma, though, it could be a long, hot, end-of-sum­mer: Power isn’t ex­pected to be fully re­stored un­til Sept. 22.

And on both coasts, there is a caveat to those es­ti­mates. Tor­nado dam­age, se­vere flood­ing and dam­age to homes could all cause fur­ther de­lays.

As of 5 p.m. Tues­day, 353,850 FPL cus­tomers in Palm Beach

County that Irma left with­out power were still un­plugged. An­other 326,940 have power back.

Statewide, 2.5 mil­lion FPL cus­tomers re­mained with­out power.

“At the end of the day, we will get the lights back on,” said FPL Chief Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Of­fi­cer Rob Gould, who asked frus­trated cus­tomers to “please be pa­tient with us.”

“We know it is go­ing to be very un­com­fort­able.”

It’s not just FPL cus­tomers. On Sun­day night, a cru­cial con­nec­tion to FPL’s grid went down, and all 27,000 cus­tomers of Lake Worth Util­i­ties’ elec­tri­cal sys­tem went dark. Only a frac­tion of cus­tomers, 3,500, had power re­stored by 2 p.m. Tues­day.

But the num­ber of peo­ple get­ting power back is grow­ing by the hour.

In the roughly 30 min­utes it took for Gould to brief re­porters Tues­day, the num­ber of FPL cus­tomers statewide with­out power had dropped from 2.8 mil­lion to 2.7 mil­lion.

Ear­lier that morn­ing, the num­ber of Palm Beach County cus­tomers with­out power dropped by 3,000 in two hours.

Still, Gould cau­tioned that peo­ple should not be fix­ated on num­bers.

For one thing, some cus­tomers cel­e­brat­ing the re­turn of elec­tric­ity might tem­po­rar­ily lose it — again — in or­der for FPL crews to fin­ish re­pairs.

Re­pairs are mov­ing more quickly than in the wake of Hur­ri­cane Wilma in 2005. That might be partly due to the 20,000 work­ers from 30 states and Canada ham­mer­ing away at get­ting FPL’s sys­tem fully up and run­ning.

Gould also cred­its FPL’s $3 bil­lion ini­tia­tive de­signed to harden its sys­tem. Wooden poles were re­placed with ce­ment ones, and more poles were added, short­en­ing the length of lines vul­ner­a­ble to de­bris.

Credit a bit of luck, too. Gould said much of Irma’s

dam,age stems from trees fall­ing onto lines, not from dam­age to sub­sta­tions, which would have called for more ex­ten­sive re­pairs.

Some of the com­pany’s gen­er­a­tors are off­line, most no­tably the Turkey Point nu­clear power plant, but none was shut down from storm dam­age, he said. Turkey Point will be re­opened, though FPL will not pro­vide a date. There was no dam­age to the nu­clear re­ac­tor, said Gould, and he knew of no other dam­age that might be crit­i­cal to the plant’s op­er­a­tion.

Lake Worth’s Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer, Ben Kerr, was sim­i­larly op­ti­mistic.

“There’s go­ing to be more of th­ese big chunks hap­pen­ing over the next cou­ple days,” he said, af­ter sev­eral hun­dred res­i­dents in west Lake Worth got their power back Tues­day af­ter­noon.

For the thou­sands in Palm Beach County still wait­ing, it can’t hap­pen soon enough: On Wed­nes­day, the heat in­dex is ex­pected to hit 106.

AN­DRES LEIVA / THE PALM BEACH POST

Mario Ve­lasquez, 59, of Lake Worth holds a can­dle, his main source of light at night, inside his Or­ange Grove Mo­bile Home Park on Tues­day. “One feels both­ered be­cause no­body pays at­ten­tion to us,” Ve­lasquez said. “Be­cause we’re poor.”

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