JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The JEA's third full day of "brute-force restoration" has shown results, with 87 percent the 284,000 the utility's customers who lost power during Hurricane Irma restored by 6 p.m. Thursday. That's still about 12 percent of the city's homes and businesses without power.
"For those ... that are still without service, that doesn't sound good, and we know it," JEA CEO Paul McElroy said.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry got a first-hand look at the power outages when he climbed into a bucket truck with a lineman Thursday for a bird's eye view of the challenges faced.
"Understandably, people are frustrated. They don't have power. They are frustrated because they don't know when they're going to get power," Curry said. "It is not on these guys. These guys are out. ... These crews are working their butts off."
McElroy said all 2,000 JEA employees are in full restoration mode, 700 workers from out-of-state utilities have been brought in and another 100 are on the way. He said they are working 16-hour days in dangerous conditions.
Some residents in Arlington were grateful when utility crews, some from as far away as South Carolina, showed up on their street.
"Man, I love you guys," Kristy Miller said.
McElroy said scores of power poles and hundreds of miles of lines have to be replaced.
By Thursday morning, the JEA reported that all hospitals, schools, major transmission lines and commercial centers were up and working. They had worked to restore power to nursing homes
"Now we're going into the neighborhoods. You are not forgotten," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said Thursday on The Morning Show.
McElroy said the city-owned utility is "ahead of the game" in terms of getting power fully restored, but for those who are still waiting, “We need to beg you for your patience." He said the JEA call center has been receiving about 10,000 calls a day.
There is no timetable for full restoration. McElroy said it will be days, not hours.
JEA was still requesting more help from other utilities to complete the job.
"I can tell you, right now, honest-to-goodness, we are on the phone asking for as much help I can to come to Jacksonville," JEA spokesman Mike Hightower said.
More than 4 days without power
Many neighborhoods, including Panama Park on the Northside, have been without power since late Sunday.
Terra Graham, her children and others in the neighborhood told News4Jax the heat is unbearable and they're trying to eat up food on hand before it spoils.
"We have to eat outside. I'm not going to be able to cook anything," Graham said. "We don't know who to complain (to). JEA is ignoring this area. I've seen them on other street. They've ain't been back over here yet."
JEA said no neighborhood is being ignored. Depending on the extent of the damage, sometimes trees have to be cleared and poles replaced by separate crews before the linemen can get to work.
"You don't have to see us in order for power to be restored. It could be around the block. It could be a mile away," JEA spokeswoman Gerri Boyce said. "We're trying to get everyone back in as safely and quickly as possible, but with more than a thousand electric workers in our field, we're going to do this methodically. We're not going to be rushed. We want every single one of our workers who go out in the field to come home to their families."
Boyce said customers still in the dark can call 904-665-6000 or log into JEA.com to see the status of their repair. She said the website works well on a smartphone.
While you wait
The city of Jacksonville opened the Prime Osborn Convention Center, at 1000 Water Street, to help people seeking to cool off with air-conditioning and access to electricity and Internet. Visitors will need to bring their own equipment (electronics and charging cords).
“Hurricane Irma left many in our community without the everyday comforts we’re so used to,” Mayor Lenny Curry said. “People are hot, tired and frustrated. This offering is an opportunity to help them recharge physically and mentally after dealing with the challenges of the past several days.”
In addition, JEA will have representatives on site to answer citizens’ questions about power restoration. The Prime Osborn will be open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Record power loses
Outages in Duval County were extraordinarily higher than with Hurricane Matthew, which bore down on Jacksonville last October. Hurricane Matthew caused around 250,000 power outages, compared with 284,000 at the peak with Irma.
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 officials reminded Jacksonville residents 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.
Millions in Florida swelter through power outages
Hurricane Irma's march across Florida and the Southeast 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.
At noon Thursday, Florida officials reported that 2.5 million homes and businesses were still without power.
Millions who evacuated ahead of the storm have returned to homes without electricity. They could face days or even weeks with little to ease the late-summer stickiness.
"Power, power, power," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said earlier this week. "The biggest thing we've got to do for people is get their power back."
The Irma blackout is still much smaller than a 2003 outage that put 50 million people in the dark. 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 U.S. history," said Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. "Given the size and strength (of the storm), infrastructure systems will need to be rebuilt completely in some parts of Florida."
Officials of the state's largest utility, Florida Power & Light, said Irma caused the most widespread damage in company history, affecting all 35 counties in its territory -- most of the state's Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast south of Tampa.
The company on Tuesday said it expected to have the lights back on by the end of the weekend for the Atlantic coast. Customers in the hard-hit neighborhoods in southwest Florida, where damage was much more extensive, were expected to get power restored within 10 days.
While acknowledging the public's frustration, utility officials said they are 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 steeled themselves for an extended period without electricity.
In Georgia, more than 510,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday. Georgia Power said 95 percent of its customers should have electricity restored by Sunday night, except for homes or businesses too damaged to be reconnected.
Irma followed Texas' Hurricane Harvey, which created widespread outages. Some three weeks after Harvey, at least 10,700 customers in that state remained without power. Many of those were homes and businesses that will have to undergo repairs before they are ready to receive electricity again.