JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly a week after Hurricane Irma slashed Florida with a destructive swath of rain and wind, over 600,000 Florida electric customers in the state are still in the dark, according to state numbers from 6 a.m. Sunday.
The largest number of outages remain in the Florida Keys and southwest Florida. In Bradford and Flagler counties, power restoration was over 90 percent.
"I know from talking with these families that power restoration is the No. 1 thing they need to start the recovery process," Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday. "Fully restoring power is my top priority and we have been aggressively working with utility providers to solve this issue as fast as possible."
In Jacksonville, electricity has been restored to 99.6 percent homes and businesses by 5 a.m. Sunday.
Paul McElroy, CEO of JEA, said 1,200 people are working to fully restore power in Jacksonville. Crews from the Carolinas have arrived and joined in JEA’s efforts. McElroy said a crew from Omaha, Nebraska, is working on tree removal.
McElroy is asking customers who are still experiencing power issues to contact JEA. He added that homes also need to be ready to take power once it has been restored in the area. Customers who have electric damage to their home, preventing them from receiving power, are asked to call an electrician or repair person to fix the issue.
McElroy said the city-owned utility was switching from a brute-force restoration to a more surgical approach. By Sunday, 128 locations in Jacksonville were left without power.
He said JEA's restoration efforts were ahead of other utilities in the state and he hoped to be able to provide an estimate for complete power restoration on Saturday.
"We're making great progress," McElroy said. "We thank you for your patience."
JEA reminded customers that if there is damage on their side of the electrical hookup, it needs to be fixed before the power can be reconnected. If they are still without power once circuits are energized, customers are asked to call back. Troubleshooting crews will be dispatched to look at individual outages.
Crews from Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas, Nebraska, Kentucky and Alabama were all in Jacksonville helping JEA restore power. JEA had enough poles and transformer and wire inventory to complete the job.
After JEA had been criticized for not providing accurate information to its customers, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry announced additional support was being offered through the city's customer-service platforms.
“I am frustrated by conflicting information citizens have been receiving stating that power has been restored when it has not," Curry said in a release Friday. "This is an effort to improve the lines of communication for citizens so that they can receive timely and accurate information."
A power outage webpage, www.coj.net/poweroutage, offers citizens three options to report outages. They can send their contact information, including their name, address and phone number, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Citizens can also enter their outage at www.630city.coj.net or by phone at 904-630-CITY (2489).
FPL expects full restoration in NE Florida by Sunday
Florida Power & Light said it has mobilized the largest workforce it has ever assembled to get power restored to its 21,500 Florida customers.
Crews from as far away as California, Missouri, Michigan and Oklahoma are helping.
It may take most of next week for restoration to be completed along Florida's Gulf Coast.
One of the ways FPL is maximizing its efforts is by having the crews sleep, shower and eat at its staging area at the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in St. Augustine. It's more efficient than putting up all the utility workers at various hotels, according to FPL President Eric Silagy.
FPL even paved a road at the airport after Hurricane Matthew to get more trucks out and work more efficiently.
"One hour represents 21,000 construction man hours is how I think about it," Silagy said Friday. "Every hour that we can put people back in the field and working is an hour closer to putting the power back on."
Clay Electric restores more than 18,500 customers
Crews from 11 states swelled the workforce, restoring power to Clay Electric Co-op customers to 1,100. By Sunday, 96 percent of Clay County customers had power.
Clay Electric’s district offices were closed Friday, allowing all personnel to focus on restoration efforts. The cooperative has suspended all late and collection fees until restoration efforts are completed.
The cooperative has sufficient numbers of transformers and other repair materials on hand for its restoration effort.
“We continue to urge our members that are still out of power to be patient. We’ll get their lights back on as quickly as we can,” Clay Electric spokesman Derick Thomas said.
While you wait
The city of Jacksonville opened the Prime Osborn Convention Center at 1000 Water Street to help people cool off with air conditioning and gain access to electricity and internet. Visitors will need to bring their own equipment, such as 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 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Record power loses
The number of outages in Duval County was extraordinarily higher than the amount caused by Hurricane Matthew, which bore down on Jacksonville last October. Hurricane Matthew brought 250,000 power outages, compared to the 284,000 due to Irma.
Irma also broke records at FPL, with nearly 4 million of its 4.90 million customers experiencing outages.
Sonja Burham, a St. Augustine resident who uses a breathing machine and has a daughter with autism, had almost reached her breaking point as she endured her sixth day without power.
"I feel really sad and depressed; scared, nervous and stressed out about money," Burham said. "It's hard. I just hope they get our electricity on."