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235,000 TECO customers still without power

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Tampa Electric Company’s CEO says the company is furiously working to restore power to customers in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties, and expects that most will have their electricity back by the end of the weekend, if not sooner.

Gordon Gillette said that as of 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, there were 250,000 TECO customers still without power. That’s down from Sunday night after Hurricane Irma first blew through the Bay Area, where more than 425,000 lost service.

An additional 2,500 contractors and workers from other public utilities joined the effort to restore power to all of TECO’s customers Monday, and those numbers will increase to 3,200 by tomorrow.

“We’re going to see very rapid improvement in our numbers in next few days,” Gillette said at a press briefing at the Hillsborough County Emergency Operation Center. “We expect that essentially all of our customers will be back in service by the end of the weekend.”

Gillette said that the public utility is making major gains by taking trees off lines and opening full circuits. He said that about 220 of the 700 feeders that make up the energy grid are currently completely closed off because power lines are tangled in trees. “Those repairs are fairly simple, they’ll go fairly quickly, and we’ll get thousands of customers at a time back into service,” he said.

The more challenging repairs are those where actual power lines or utility poles have been downed or damaged, which in some cases means that they will need to be completely rebuilt or replaced. Gillette said that those would be “longer jobs” that would take until the end of the weekend.

Hurricane Irma blew out power in 235 schools in Hillsborough County, along with 12 hospitals and several sewage treatment plants. Those hospitals and treatment plants are back online, but there are still 40 schools lacking power.

Because of that fact, Hillsborough County School Superintendent Jeff Eakins says that classes won’t resume for all schools until next Monday, Sept. 18. Eakins said he was originally hoping to have classes resume this week, but with more than three dozen schools still without electricity, he now will push the return back another six days.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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