Flagler County has an unhappy history of finding itself near the bottom of the list of counties to have their power restored in previous hurricanes. That may yet again be the case in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s devastation as more populous counties get attention first.
Efforts to restore power will also be affected by Hurricane Ian’s expected slow crawl across Florida after an anticipated Gulf Coast landfall on Wednesday, Florida Power & Light President & CEO Eric Silagy cautioned Tuesday.
For Flagler County, that means a likely slower restoration of lost power that may evoke FPL’s halting response in Palm Coast and the rest of the county in the post-Matthew and Irma days.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma knocked out more than 90 percent of Flagler customers’ power. It was a week or more before full restoration as Palm Coast and the county went days without seeing so much as a few utility trucks at work. The company had focused its 21,500 workers on restoring power in more heavily damaged areas to the south. (See “FPL Lies.”)
FPL also overpromised restoration in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, leaving thousands without power days after the storm passed.
“They will always go to the highest priorities first,” Flagler County Emergency Management Chief Jonathan Lord said on Tuesday. “Even within our county, they prioritize certain kinds of facilities, like the hospital, like critical facilities, fire stations, police stations. Things like that. We do have a great partnership with FPL. They will be in the Emergency Operations Center with us for the duration, and we will help prioritize those areas with them. But they cover a large swath of the state, they are by far the overwhelming majority power provider in the state, they’re probably going to have impacts in many, many areas of their service territory. But having that relationship, having them in the EOC with us, will help us share that information, see what is happening to our community and help us to appropriately prioritize.”
FPL, the largest utility in the state, has nearly 16,000 workers in 24 staging areas, Silagy said in a conference call with reporters. Still, Silagy said there will be “challenges in the days ahead,” with ground saturated from past rain and anticipated storm surges and flooding.
Hurricane Ian was preparing to make landfall as just short of a Category 5 hurricane midday Wednesday, somewhere in Charlotte County. At last report at 8 a.m. Wednesday, its sustained winds had strengthened to 155 miles per hour, just 2 miles per hour short of the Category 5 designation–and ample time for the hurricane, fueled by the Gulf’s warm waters, to reach that threshold by the time it hits land.
“This is a very slow-moving storm. It is predicted to slow down as it approaches Florida, and then when it makes landfall to continue to be very slow as it moves across the state,” Silagy said. “That means that, again, there’ll be significant amounts of rainfall, storm-surge flooding, and of course, trees being battered by winds for many, many hours in a row, which unfortunately means a lot of them are likely to go over and cause outages.”
Silagy said it could take 24 hours to determine how long restoration efforts will take. “We have to understand what damage has been done, whether or not it is a restoration or in some cases whether or not we actually have to rebuild part of the system, which, unfortunately because of the strength and the size of the storm, is likely to be the case in some pockets,” Silagy said.
Meanwhile, Tampa Electric Co. is considering pre-emptively interrupting service to areas of downtown Tampa to “avoid serious damage” to underground equipment from saltwater storm surge. “This will significantly shorten restoration time after the storm,” the company said in a news release.
“Tampa Electric has communicated with affected customers to minimize the inconvenience. The affected area is under a mandatory evacuation order.” Tampa Electric has about 3,000 workers from a dozen states poised to help restore power after the storm passes, the company said. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday the projected path of the storm cutting across the state means interior counties will “absolutely see power outages,” along with flooding and wind damage.
Hurricane Ian knocked out power across Cuba when it passed over the western edge of the country, leaving 11 million people in the dark. Today outages affecting thousands of Floridians were already reported in Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties as convoys of utility trucks were converging on the swath of the state about to be struck by Hurricane Ian. But those early outages are certain to be overwhelmed by cascades of power losses rising to the millions of customers by day’s end, and rising further after that.
–FlaglerLive and News Service of Florida