ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. —
As Hurricane Irma swept through South Florida, power-company officials warned Sunday that restoring electricity to more than 2 million homes and businesses will be a slow and dangerous process that will take weeks.
Florida Power & Light CEO Eric Silagy said at a news conference that he expects full power restoration after the storm to take “multi-weeks,” as it did after the Category 5 Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992.
“Plan for extended and prolonged outages,” FPL spokesman Rob Gould said. “We expect, given the fact the storm has slowed down, many of our customers will be out for a day or longer, given that, much like emergency responders, our crews cannot get out and work. It’s just too dangerous.”
The company said repairs and restoration would take a million man-hours to complete statewide. In South Florida, 17,000 line and vegetation workers employed by FPL and companies in California, Massachusetts Texas, Colorado and Wisconsin, are in position to start recovery work.
The workforce contains about 1,000 more crews than were assembled for Hurricane Matthew in 2016.
“This will no doubt be one of the most complex, not just in our company’s history but in the history of this country, in terms of restoration,” Gould said.
Broward and Miami-Dade counties endured tropical force winds throughout Sunday, with Irma just 30 miles off the coast of Key West before arriving at Cudjoe Key at 9:10 a.m. as a Category 4 storm.
FPL said it will shut down certain substations before they flood, so they can turn them back on more quickly. Silagy said that was a technique that worked during Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast and FPL found that it worked during Hurricane Matthew last year.
As of midday Sunday, there were 450,060 outages reported in Broward County, representing 48 percent of FPL’s countywide customer accounts. Miami-Dade County was the most heavily hit with 703,940 or 62 percent of the accounts losing power. In Palm Beach County, the total was 217,420 or 28 percent.
Gould said service to about 320,000 accounts had been restored and that crews were out working wherever possible. But frequent tornado warnings that began Saturday night have created an additional danger and impediment to those working to restore power.
The restoration of power is no guarantee that it won’t go out again, Gould said. Higher winds, heavy rain and storm surges were expected well into the night Sunday throughout South Florida.
“A storm of this magnitude and this intensity will require us in many cases to completely rebuild our electric system, particularly on the west coast,” Gould said.
FPL said Saturday that it shut down one of Turkey Point’s two nuclear reactors near Homestead. As Irma’s path changed, the decision was made to leave the second reactor online, as hurricane-force winds were no longer expected at the site.
“Our nuclear plants are absolutely safe. One of our units is shut down. The other is running fine,” Gould said.
The same applied to the utility’s nuclear plant in Jensen Beach.
“It is not expected that the St. Lucie nuclear power plant will be shut down as result of Irma, though we will closely monitor the changing weather conditions,” the utility said.
According to a company website, FPL’s priorities for restoring power start with its own power plants, substations and damaged transmission lines.
Then, workers turn their attention to “critical facilities such as hospitals, police and fire stations, communication facilities, water treatment plants and transportation providers. Simultaneously, the company focuses on “the largest number of customers in the shortest amount of time — including service to major thoroughfares that host supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and other needed community services.”
Smaller groups are next in the pecking order. Workers will tend to them “around the clock until everyone has power again.”