By Daisy Luther
Hundreds of thousands of homes in Florida are still without power more than a week after Hurricane Irma barrelled through on her destructive path. And, unfortunately, there’s no clear end in sight for them, as infrastructure was so thoroughly destroyed in certain areas. With an average temperature in the 90s, days in Florida are miserable indeed for those without power.
Restoration of power is a slow process in some areas.
According to an article in the Washinton Post, it could be a while before everyone has their power restored.
Duke Energy Florida said it would restore power to most customers by Sunday, a week after Irma made its first landfall in Florida. Some harder-hit areas could take longer due to the rebuilding effort.
Gould said that FPL [Florida Power & Light], which powers about half of the state, expected customers on Florida’s East Coast to have power back by the end of the weekend. People in western Florida, closer to Irma’s path, should have it back by Sept. 22. That estimate does not include places with severe flooding or tornado damage, he said, and those areas could also face a longer wait to be able to switch on the lights…
…In Key West, it remained unclear when power, cellphone service or supplies would be available again. (source)
The power outages are in great number due to structural damage, which is why it’s taking such a long time to get it turned back on. Utility workers can only replace poles and lines so quickly. The extent of the damage also speaks to the massive size of the storm.
Across the state, the explanations for the outages were visible alongside the road.
“It’s a lot of trees and power lines and snapped poles,” said Kate Albers, a spokeswoman for Collier County, which stretches across southwestern Florida and includes Marco Island, where Irma made her second landfall.
“I can tell you from driving around you see lines down all over the place,” Albers said. “You see trees thrown through power lines and you’ll see an occasional pole.”
The high number of outages across Florida were due largely to the storm’s massive size, said Ted Kury, director of energy studies for the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida. (source)
Florida Power & Light has more than 20,000 employees working around the clock to restore power in the following order:
- Critical care infrastructures like hospitals, care facilities, and 911 systems
- To “feeders” that send power to the largest number of customers individual neighborhoods.
- To individual neighborhoods
How many people lost power during the hurricane?
Some estimate that more than 16 million people lost power during Hurricane Irma (source) out of a population of 20.6 million residents. This is one of the biggest hurricane-related power outages in history. To put it in perspective:
Irma triggered one of the nation’s largest natural disaster-related power outages ever measured. For comparison, Hurricane Andrew left 1.4 million people without power in South Florida in 1992, and it took months to be restored. Hurricane Wilma caused 3.4 million outages for Florida Power & Light customers in South Florida in 2005. Hurricane Sandy cut power to 8.2 million people across 17 states. (source)
It’s obviously going to take some time to repair that much damage.
Some people have asked why the power lines in hurricane-prone areas are not buried. While it’s true that buried lines are less likely to be susceptible to wind damage, they’re susceptible to flood damage, which is part and parcel of a hurricane. Buried lines are very expensive to install and they are expensive and time-consuming to work on since they must be dug up to be repaired.
What are the challenges people are facing during this lengthy power outage?
The primary complaint is the heat. The daytime temperatures are in the 90s, and it’s very humid in Florida, which leaves residents who are accustomed to constant air conditioning absolutely sweltering. Some are spending their days at nearby malls or other businesses that have power in order to beat the heat. Tragically, the extreme unrelieved heat has been the cause of death for some elderly nursing home residents. (source)
Even families equipped with generators are suffering:
For families like the Morrisons, whose Longwood home on South Hamlin Street has been without power for seven days, it’s small consolation. According to father Cecil Morrison, they’re throwing away what was once good food, cooking outside daily, and sleeping together in their living room to stay cool.
“When we turn off the generator, the ice starts melting from the refrigerator and we had to take half of the meat over to our mom’s,” Morrison said.
He went on to say it’s cost him about $30 a day in gasoline to run his generator every day over the past week.
“Right now, I’m on the last three gallons of gas, unless I go into the Christmas funds and take the last of that,” Morrison said.
For Morrison’s family, it’s not just the loss of food, either. They haven’t been able to store medication for one of their children properly, as it has to be stored in a cool place.
“It’s about $1,200 bucks for these,” Morrison said, showing us the medication. “But even with Medicaid I don’t know … with the medicine going bad, I don’t know how long it will take to get him back his medicine.” (source)
Food is a real issue for many people. Everything that was in their fridges and freezers has long-since spoiled and anything that came into contact with flood waters must be discarded.
When the power goes out for an extended period of time and refrigerators and ovens are inoperable, the risk of food poisoning is heightened. People should throw away any perishable food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more or any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture.
Additionally, people should discard any food that has come in contact with floodwater, even those that are wrapped or packaged in plastic.
“There could be microbreaks in the plastic,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBS News. “There’s no way to know if it’s been compromised.” (source)
Some people believe that FEMA and the Red Cross will pay to replace spoiled food. This is not the case. While they are dispensing other types of aid, grocery store vouchers and value replacement are not included. (source) For those who have run out of food and can’t afford to buy more, food banks are their best bets.
Businesses are reopening, but struggling.
Some business are reopening, while others may cease to operate due to extensive damage.
Some stores, including some small ones, had also reopened to sell critical supplies for cash, because their credit card machines were not yet operating…
One of the bigger obstacles for employers is maintaining payrolls: how to keep workers earning their pay — and actually getting payments to them because power is out. Business shutdowns also have a big impact on hourly employees, who may have to go without pay…
Chad Sorenson, a human resources consultant in Jacksonville, said many office workers, whose downtown offices flooded, were telecommuting…
Meanwhile, in Houston, Paula Harvey is still dealing with the effects of the hurricane that shared her surname. She said some orders for her business, Schulte Building Systems, are delayed, though none so far have canceled. A bigger long-term concern is whether the handful of employees who lost their homes and cars will remain.
“What happens during these types of things is, some people just say, ‘forget it’ and leave because they’ve lost everything, and then they go somewhere else and start over again,” Harvey said. So far, that’s happened with one employee, who simply did not report back to work. (source)
The lessons we can learn from this extended power outage.
Those who study preparedness can learn a lot from the aftermath of a disaster like this. We can take these lessons and become better prepared when disaster comes knocking at our own doors.
- Preserve the food in your fridge and freezer when disaster is near. In situations like a hurricane, when you know it’s coming, you can take action to preserve the foods in your refrigerator and freezer. Canning is probably the best way to put these foods back, as dehydrated foods wouldn’t do as well in a damp environment. Check out this book for instructions on preserving the food you have on hand.
- If you can’t preserve it, consider getting rid of it. If you are expecting a monster storm that is likely to take down the grid, you won’t want to sit there in a house full of spoiled, rotting food. Eat as much as you can before the storm hits, and consider disposing of what you can’t consume. This is especially true if you plan to evacuate. Returning home to the stench of rotting meat would be awful.
- Store important things like food and documents up high. If you live in an area where flooding is a possibility, reorganize where your food is kept. If you have a second story or an attic, consider moving non-perishable foods up there. Same thing goes with documents. Also, consider waterproof pouches for important papers.
- Have a plan for staying cool. One of the most miserable things about this power outage is the extreme heat. Plans for staying cool might include battery operated fans, cooling cloths (these work very well), a kiddie pool with non-toxic water if any is available, Make sure to stock up on plenty of batteries.
- Have cash on hand. One thing to note in the information above is that credit and debit machines are inoperable. You will need cash, preferably in small bills, to be able to purchase things in the aftermath of a long-term power outage.
- Stock up on well-packaged emergency food. I recommend buckets with mylar pouches. They’re lightweight, can be easily moved, and can store a lot of food in a small amount of space. Go here to see the huge variety of products that are available.
- Have a way to cook that doesn’t rely on the grid. If you can go outdoors, a barbecue can work well to cook food. For the first few days, while it’s still safe, focus on the things in your fridge and freezer. Once those foods are no longer safe, move on to your shelf-stable foods. Another good option is this little emergency stove, which is safe to be used indoors. Be sure to stock up on plenty of additional fuel in the event that the power outage lasts a long time.
- Have extensive water storage. Water treatment plants have also been dealing with power outages, which means that they aren’t able to purify water. As well, many were inundated with millions of gallons of toxic floodwaters. The tap water is still not safe to drink in many parts of the state. Water filtration may not be enough in situations like this, so it is vital that you have a lot of water stocked up. I’m a fan of these 15-gallon water tanks, which are a bit easier to manage than the 160-gallon tanks, which won’t be able to be moved once they’re filled. Store these above flood levels, so in an attic or on an upper floor, if possible. If that isn’t possible, at least place them on shelves, counters, and tables when the floods are on the way.
Your situation will be much worse if you plan to rely on the aid of FEMA and the Red Cross. It’s essential to take matters into your own hands and prepare for the most likely concerns well before an emergency ever happens. If you wait until the disaster is nigh, supplies will be limited and you’ll be fighting with your neighbors to get what you need. As well, if you wait too late to order online, you run the risk of receiving your supplies once the emergency is over.
Coming soon: the situation in the Florida Keys is even more dire than that of the rest of the state.
Re: “The power outages are in great number due to structural damage, which is why it’s taking such a long time to get it turned back on. Utility workers can only replace poles and lines so quickly. The extent of the damage also speaks to the massive size of the storm.”
Utility poles probably have to be brought in on trucks. I am sure they also have utility workers from different states who have been sent in to help get the power restored.
I remember how LONG it seemed to take getting poles and lines replaced after we had a tornado here several years ago. It was in early March and we had snow, rain, and cold weather. That added to the discomfort many had, especially those who had lost large sections of their roof and were now only covered by large tarps.
It was a learning experience for us. Those days without power prompted us to improve our off grid preps, including security. When the police are busy, criminals seem to surface. It was some criminals from surrounding counties who arrived looking to steal within hours of the tornado. Apparently, they knew what “locations” to search first. The camera on a cell phone easily photographs license plates. Nearly everyone is armed here. Some camped out on their property to guard it.
I’m an older woman retiree in the Tampabay area. Went about 4 days in the awful heat without the grid. Even though I’m in a very small apartment, I had my “stash” all ready. Had plenty of water, off-grid lighting,..food (etc.). I had even canned up all the meat that was in my freezer before Irma hit. Just waiting it out in the heat was rough. Otherwise, I was prepared. Others are not so lucky, and are still without power, like you say. My daughter and I were amazed at the huge lines we saw outside the stores just before Irma. People waited until the very last possible moment to rush out and try to grab water and things (then it was almost too late!) Judging from all those “last-minute” store lines we saw,…I am worried that the folks still without power may not fare very well.
Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad you were ready!
We’re still without power here, and running off a generator (internet and phone work some of the time). Our prep group has a web page that we are posting tips for dealing without electricity and general after-hurricane prep items. What worked and what didn’t. It’s a work-in-process since some of our members haven’t been able to pass their information along yet.
Thank you for this fantastic resource! Do you mind f I share this on Facebook?
Not at all – please do. Also, if you click on the Resources link, you’ll find “Hurricane Notes” that I wrote following the three hurricanes that went through here in 2004. I’ve learned much since then, so some of my thinking has changed, but there’s still some good information there.
Hurricane Notes link – http://adjutant.com/briefing/?page_id=19
Loved the ideas on your site! For lights, I used regular garden-type “outdoor” solar led lights, that I rigged on top of mason jars. For cooking,..I use a little alcohol burner (from a fondue set). Washed clothes in a rubbermaid tub with a hand “washing wand” laundry plunger. Plenty of re-changeable batteries, portable radios, solar charger,…etc. etc. Don’t have anything like a generator or fans, though. If we have another hurricane before the season is over,…I’m getting a battery-powered fan, and a bigger ice cooler, for SURE!
No we are not. We could get by maybe a week. We need to store more gasoline but I really want to invest in a solar generator, sun oven and the battery operated fans.
When it comes to water storage, remember that every gallon weighs roughly 8 pounds, and that large amounts stored on shelves or upstairs could cause a collapse, which would contaminate your water.
Also consider investing in LifeStraws. They were designed to purify water in rivers contaminated with human waste and cholera. This straw can purify nearly all water, and is good for hundreds of gallons.
And when looking for a new filter, consider buying one that was made to filter out viruses and bacteria, not just particles and heavy metals.
We were out of power here in South Texas for about a week and a half. We didn’t go back for a week anyway. Our 110 year old house is a total loss and will have to be torn down. The structure is fine, but mold took over very quickly. We were a little underinsured, but we’ll make out alright.
My comment is on generators. When you think you have enough gas or propane, quadruple it. We are now living in a 29′ travel trailer. My 3500 watt gen set would burn about 4 gallons in 7 hours during the day and at night it would go as much as 11 hours on a tank. Think about that. Almost two 5 gallon cans A DAY. You would need over 200 gallons for three weeks.
Texas Scout, I am SO sorry to hear about your house. My heart breaks for you.
Great advice on the generator! Someone on social media was just commenting on generators like they were the easiest thing in the world, but they have no idea how much fuel one uses. Not to mention the price. At 200 gallons a week, at least at my current local price, that would cost around $500 a week, or $2000 a month. If you’re already struggling because everything you own got wiped out, then you’re going to be in big trouble keeping a generator fueled.
Fuel usage is, as you said, grossly misunderstood by most folks. That certainly applied to me until I went a while without power in 2004. The temptation is to get the biggest generator you can afford – after all, bigger is better, right? Wrong.
I have a minimum wattage dictated by what it takes to run my well pump, but that is far above what I need other than that. My solution was to keep the 5,000 watt generator to use a couple times a day for about 5 minutes to charge the pressure tanks, and also get a small 2,000 watt generator that uses an inverter (far more efficient than a regular generator) to run the refrigerator, freezer, solar water heater pump, fan, etc. All those draw very little current while running, and the 2,000 watt generator just idles along sipping fuel.
Another thing I did was have two large water tanks installed for my well rather than the usual one small tank. I can crank up the generator for 5 minutes to pump enough water to last all night, then again in the morning with maybe a time or two for showers. We had 11 people spanning three generations here for several days, and it worked just fine with that many people. Another benefit of having two tanks is that the pump only has to start half as many times during the day than it otherwise would, and that saves a significant amount on the power bill each month.
At this point, we’ve been without power for 10 days, and we’ve used right at 20 gallons of fuel while running the generator pretty much continuously. Yes, having two generators is more up-front money, but if you can afford it, you end up spending much less for fuel in the long run.
Very good suggestions! Thank you for sharing them!
As we live in a rural area, power goes out often usually due to downed trees in storms – winter & summer.
We have a propane and a diesel generator. We have a LARGE propane tank, which we get filled at Tractor Supply. The propane is stable for a long time. We also use propane in our Weber grills outside.
My husband has set up the generator to only power certain outlets – an upstairs and downstairs refrigerator, furnace fan (gas heat), water heater, and an LED TV (newer model and uses less electricity) in the family room. To conserve on fuel, we run the generator for several hours at a time and then off for a while. We have found that once the water in the tank is heated, it stays hot for a long time.