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JEA, other utility crews working to restore power to customers

Millions without power after Hurricane Irma tears through Florida

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Millions of Floridians remained without power Tuesday after Hurricane Irma tore through the state.

At the height of Hurricane Irma's damage, 55 percent of JEA customers were without power.

In Duval County, outages were extraordinarily higher than with Hurricane Matthew, which bore down on Jacksonville last October. Hurricane Matthew caused around 250,000 power outages compared with 280,000 at the peak with Irma.

"(There are) major power outages -- 250,000 out at this point,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Monday. “This is a strain all over the entire state. Most of the state of Florida is without power. Manpower will be strained, but our professionals will bust their butts."

JEA CEO Paul McElroy said there are 500 crews out working to restore power and another 100 crews doing damage assessments. Crews also came in from outside the city to help. In total, there are 1,471 people hard at work to get power restored in Jacksonville, and that's just for JEA customers.

JEA said restoring power after Irma has been the most challenging of any storm the utility has faced.

Crews always restore power first to those who serve the public, such as hospitals, police and fire departments and emergency shelters.

After that, crews focus on the issues affecting the largest parts of the grid – areas where the highest numbers of homeowners and businesses are still in the dark. Then they move on to smaller pockets, until all the power is restored.

JEA linemen said they are working 16- to 18-hour shifts, and they expect to be working for weeks to get power back to everyone.

Trees caused most of the problems, taking down poles, cables and electric lines in neighborhoods across the city.

Some people in the Lakewood area have been sitting in the dark since Saturday, but crews were working Tuesday to restore power. Several residents showed their appreciation by offering cold drinks to the crews.

It's challenging to wait for the electricity to come back on, but residents are getting by.

"(It's) very, very frustrating. We have no cable so I can't even look with my computer because the internet is gone. So I can't see what's happening," Pat Warren said. "I have Channel 4 sending me alerts."

The sounds of chain saws cutting up trees also filled the air Tuesday as people waited for the power to come back on. Some became tired of waiting and left their home.

ONLINE: Who is responsible for what in restoring power?

In Northwest Jacksonville, Tyrone Walker and his wife left their house and went to a hotel that had air conditioning.

"(We've) got lots of food inside and, right now, no lights," Walker said. "It's going to spoil. It's going in the trash."

JEA officials reminded Jacksonville residents Tuesday that talking to crews in the field and asking them questions just slows them down. Also, if you have power, leave your porch light on day and night to help teams assess more quickly where power is out.

Hurricane Irma triggered one of the bigger blackouts in U.S. history, plunging as many as 13 million people into the dark as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out transformers.

More than 50,000 utility workers -- some from as far away as Canada and California -- are responding to the crisis.

About 10 million people -- half of Florida's population -- remained without electricity Tuesday, two days after Hurricane Irma roared across the length of the state.

More than 1.2 million Georgia Power and Electric Membership Corp. customers were without power Tuesday morning. The utility companies said they would continue to assess damage as power is restored.

Clay County

About 58 percent of Clay Electric customers are without electricity (99,000 accounts) due to the storm as of Tuesday afternoon. The utility has restored service to more than 50,000 accounts since Monday afternoon. Clay Electric expects an additional 500 linemen from other cooperatives and contractors on Wednesday to work alongside crews, as well as another 200 right-of-way personnel. Crews are coming from Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Wisconsin. District offices will remain closed to the public on Wednesday to allow personnel to focus on restoration efforts.

Flooding along Black Creek will impede restoration efforts in that area until the water recedes. Floodwaters were up to the roofs on some homes.

Members are asked to please be patient.  Due to the magnitude of the storm, members should prepare to go without power for up to a week or longer. 

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • There are many low-hanging or downed power lines in our area at this time. These lines may still be energized, so please avoid going near them and never touch them.
  • If you or a family member depend on power for medical reasons, have somewhere to go that is out of harm’s way, or have a generator handy.
  • If you use a generator, know how to operate it safely, and do not hook it up to your home’s wiring system. It could backfeed into our distribution system and kill or injure personnel making repairs.
  • If a member has reported an outage, he or she does not need to continue to call. Wait a few days and call again (888-434-9844) or report it via our online outage report form.

Information and updates will be shared on Facebook and ClayElectric.com throughout the restoration process.

About the Authors:

Reports weekdays and anchors The Morning Show on Saturdays and Sundays

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.