Less than 14K in Pinellas still without power

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

One of the most important parts of the recovery phase from Hurricane Irma is restoration of power. However, despite Duke Energy’s best efforts, 14,088 customers still were without power as of 6 a.m. Sunday.

Duke had estimated that power would be restored in Pinellas by midnight Friday, but that estimate didn’t prove true with nearly 60,000 still without power at 9 p.m., when the last power restoration update of the day was posted online.

Duke identified some of the hardest hit areas that remained out of power, which included Venetian Isles, Snell Isle, Jungle Prada, Treasure Island, Pasadena, Lake Seminole, Disston area, Bardmoor, North Clearwater Beach and Belleair.

“We are in the home stretch of restoring all our customers,” said Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida president. “Given the scale and scope of the extensive repairs, we need just a little more time in some areas to finish the job. We are so grateful for our customers’ patience and perseverance as we work through this historic restoration.”

Duke revised its estimate, saying all power would be restored by midnight Saturday. That estimate also failed to come true. At 9 p.m., 21,657 still were without power, and 14,088 were without power at 6 a.m. Sunday – nearly a week after Hurricane Irma passed by.

The big story in the aftermath of the hurricane in Pinellas has been power outages. The lack of electricity has caused problems all through the county.

From a law enforcement perspective, lack of power for traffic signals was a major issue. Gualtieri said 300 signals had been inoperable immediately after Irma passed by. He assigned 285 deputies to manage traffic at those intersections, which was a dangerous job in the dark.

As of Thursday, Sept. 14, 197 signals still were inoperable and traffic in those areas were being managed by deputies or by the use of stop signs, reminding motorists to treat the intersections as a four-way stop.

Another major problem was the heat, especially among the elderly population. After eight residents of a nursing home in south Florida died Wednesday, Sept. 13, most likely due to lack of air conditioning, the county began working with fire departments and other partners to try to prevent heat-related problems, especially among the elderly.

An effort began to locate facilities with working air conditioners willing to serve as public cooling stations during the heat of the day. Nearly 50 stations were open on Friday. County Communications also put out information with tips on how to avoid becoming ill.

The county’s pump stations also took a hit with 200 of the 306 stations losing power. As of Sept. 14, power had been restored to 124 and 76 were being managed with generator power. Utilities customers were asked to limit water flowing into the sewer system and to postpone doing laundry, running dishwashers and flushing toilets, if possible. The water supply was never a problem and remained safe for residents to drink.

Six hospitals, 55 nursing homes and 152 assisted living facilities lost power during the storm. As of Sept. 14, all 17 of the county’s hospitals were operational. Bay Pines VA Hospital announced it facilities were all operational Friday afternoon with the exception of its Palm Harbor location. Other facilities either had power or were operating on generators. Supplies of gas, food and ice were being delivered as needed.

Pinellas County was one of Duke Energy’s hardest hit areas when Hurricane Irma passed by Sunday and Monday, according to Duke Energy spokesman Neil Nissan. Duke Energy Florida serves 35 counties in the state.

“We are making significant progress getting power back on for our customers,” said Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida president on Friday. “We’re glad to have restored 1 million customers, but we won’t be happy until all customers have power. We thank all of our customers for their patience and will not stop working until the job is done.”

Sideris added that over 3,000 power poles, more than 1,100 transformers and more than 1,000 miles of wire are being replaced due to storm damage.

Pinellas County commissioners discussed the power problem during its regular meeting Sept. 14.

Commissioner Ken Welch said he was a former 14-year employee of Florida Power … “and frankly I’m shocked that we lost 79 percent capacity (of the electrical system) and the storm didn’t even hit us directly.”

Assistant County Administrator John Bennett pointed out that it had been many years since Pinellas had experienced a heavy wind event like what went on when Category 2 Hurricane Irma buffeted the county with 80-90 mph winds.

Peak wind gusts reported around the county was 91 mph at Fort De Soto, 87 mph in Belleair and 84 mph on Clearwater Beach.

Bennett said steps needed to be taken to make the electrical system more resilient and redundant.

“The whole state felt this. It should be a top priority,” he said.