Michael leaves more than 600K Florida, Georgia customers without power

Outages reported in north Florida, south Georgia

By Corley Peel - Reporter, Mike Vasilinda, Jennifer Ready - Reporter, Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Hurricane Michael knocked down trees and power poles as it swept through Tallahassee on Wednesday. (Via Tallahassee Police Department)

Hurricane Michael's strong winds and heavy rains left hundreds of thousands of people without power Wednesday as the storm slammed into the Florida Panhandle and barreled into south Georgia. 

In north Florida, more than 388,000 homes and businesses were without power at the height of the storm.

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, 316,000 customers remained without power as thousands of rescue and utility crew members spread out across coastal and rural Panhandle communities to respond to the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael.

Gulf Power, which provides electricity in hard-hit Bay County, anticipates people in the impacted areas could be without power for weeks as the utility rebuilds parts of its system.

In the state's Capitol, downed trees and power lines were significant. More than 100,000 customers were reported to be without power late Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

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The Tallahassee Police Department tweeted photos of crews coming in from around the state to help restore power.

Farther east in Lake City, Florida Power and Light crews were stationed at the Columbia County Fairgrounds where workers, as well as 300 FPL utility trucks, were on standby to restore outages following Michael. 

"We've got more than 3,000 FPL employees and contractors that are coming to staging sites like this one here in Lake City to get the lights back on for our customers," said FPL spokesman Bill Orlove.

Inside the mobile command center at the fairgrounds, FPL employees were using maps to track any outages in the area. 

According to FPL, roughly 400 Columbia County customers were without power after Michael made landfall, but it was quickly restored within an hour.

OUTAGE MAPS: Power outages in Florida | Power outages in Georgia

"As the squalls and feeder bands come through, we know that there are going to be more outages," Orlove said. "As long as the wind speeds are going to be below 35 mph sustained, our crews can go out and restore power safely and quickly."

FPL workers will be working to make sure customers' lights stay on, and crews will be staying inside mobile units overnight. 

“Our crews are able to sleep here at night, wake up in the morning, get their equipment, get their trucks, get on the road and get the lights back on for our customers," Orlove said. "They’ll be working in 16-hour shifts, but this will be a 24/7 operation and we won’t stop until all of the lights are back on.”

FPL said once all of its customers have electricity back, then its crews will begin providing services to utility companies in the Panhandle.

All morning Thursday, FPL officials coordinated with other utility and energy companies in the southeast to determine the best place for them to send crews to help.  

“We know what it takes to get people's lives back together. We know how difficult it is to be without power. We recently were in the Carolinas to restore power to people up there after Hurricane Florence," Orlove said. "We also were in Puerto Rico for several months helping restore power for Puerto Rico so we know what it’s like, we know what it takes, and we stand at the ready to help our fellow citizens.”

Some of the workers headed to Georgia and South Carolina, and a group of contractors left for the Panhandle to assist with search and rescue efforts.

More than 19,000 utility workers from companies in Florida and across the country have started assessing the damages.

The Division of Emergency Management reported 400,666 customers of Gulf Power, Duke Energy and a number of smaller utilities were without power Thursday morning.

Pensacola-based Gulf Power, which reported some 120,000 customers were in the dark at one point, said progress was made in its westernmost regions, but the hardest-hit areas may take weeks to rebuild.

“The Gulf Power system held strong from Pensacola to Fort Walton Beach --- a testament to the investments we’ve made to harden our infrastructure,” Gulf Power spokesman Jeff Rogers said in a statement. “But the hardest hit areas around Panama City may need to be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Bay County, which includes Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base, was 98 percent without power Thursday morning, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

Calhoun, Gadsden and Jackson counties, which are north of Bay County, were 100 percent without power. Gulf and Franklin counties, which are on the coast, and Holmes County, which is to the north, were all more than 90 percent without power.

After Michael ravaged the Panhandle, parts of Georgia began to feel the hurricane's impact. 

As of 10 p.m. Thursday, PowerOutage.US reported more than 181,000 customers of Georgia utilities were without power.

Duke Energy crews staged at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center began to roll out in convoys about 8 a.m. They were headed for the Panhandle to start restoring power for customers.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.