As a potent Hurricane Ian made landfall in Southwest Florida, the top executive at Florida Power & Light warned residents in the storm’s path to expect “life-changing effects” from widespread and catastrophic damage to the state’s electrical grid that will take days, and in some case weeks, to fully fix.
Speaking on a livestream from FPL’s Palm Beach County emergency command center, President and CEO Eric Silagy said the company expects it will have to completely rebuild sections of its electrical system given Ian’s massive size and powerful winds, as well as the extensive rainfall and flooding it’s forecast to generate.
Silagy said that damage will not be limited to the coastal area taking a direct hit from Ian’s eyewall on Wednesday afternoon, but along its full path as the storm thrashes its way across the state to the Atlantic Ocean, where it’s expected to emerge Thursday.
“There are sections of our territory we will not be able to repair, we will have to rebuild,” Silagy said. “I can’t stress the difference that makes. Rebuilding can take many days or weeks.”
Silagy stressed, however, that FPL — which was criticized after some past storms for slow repairs and poor preparation — is ready to respond rapidly and in force to Ian.
The company has stationed 19,000 workers from 30 different states at 37 sites across Florida and has built up storehouses of thousands of electrical poles, breakers, transformers and other equipment, including “thousands of miles of wire,” Silagy said, and has run drills to prepare for a storm the size and potency of Ian.
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“We’ve been preparing for such an event for quite some time,” he said, adding later: “This is a huge undertaking. This is deploying an army.”
Once the storm passes, crews and drones will be rapidly dispatched to assess damage and determine needed repairs. Rotating crews working 16-hour shifts will ensure repairs can go on around the clock, Silagy said.
“The road ahead is going to be challenging,” he said. “We will work 24 hours a day until every last customer is restored.”
Speaking at a 2 p.m. briefing, just as Ian’s eyewall was striking land around Fort Myers, Silagy said it was way too early to estimate the extent of damage. But he noted that crews had already been dispatched to make repairs as storm bands earlier made their way across South Florida and the Keys.
“We are continuing to work in between feeder bands to get the lights back on. We are going to continue to do that throughout this event,” he said. “Whenever we can safely get out there, we are out there restoring power.”
Mid-afternoon data from the Florida Public Service Commission, which compiles information from all the state’s power companies, showed thousands of customers were without power. As of 3 p.m., 756,450 out of 11,265,900 users in Florida, or about 7%, had no electricity.
Silagy and state officials said they expect those numbers to grow exponentially as the storm makes its way across the state.
Miami-Dade County suffered the most power outages in South Florida since wind and rain started picking up on Tuesday afternoon, but the numbers were relatively small. About 3% of users lost power, or 34,910 people out of about 1.2 million people in Miami-Dade.
Broward and Monroe both had about 2% of customers without power. The former had a total of 18,702 without power out of 963,625 in total. Monroe had 1,201 people out of power out of 64,649 in total. Palm Beach has 10,660 customers out of 793,311 total, or 1% out of power.
Hillsborough, home to Tampa, had 40,413 power outages out of a total of 688,552 customers, about 6% of users.
The number of Manatee County customers without power south of Tampa as Hurricane Ian made landfall on Cayo Costa State Park, an island reachable only by boat, grew from 25,420 at 1 p.m. to 38,910 two hours later, FPL reported Wednesday on its outage tracker.
FPL has 198,710 customers in Manatee County and the worst was sure to come as the monster storm began moving northeast from its beachhead.
This report includes material from Bradenton Herald reporter James A. Jones Jr.
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