Over Half Of Florida Without Power As State Braces For "Lengthiest Restoration In US History"
After hammering the Florida Keys, Miami, Naples and a large swath of the southernmost part of the state – leaving some 5 million Florida homes and businesses without electricity – the still-formidable Hurricane Irma weakened to a category one storm as it traveled over the Tampa Bay area.
According to NBC, no deaths were confirmed Sunday after the storm twice made landfall in Florida, first in Cudjoe Key, then again on Marco Island just southwest of the city of Naples. Florida's largest utility – Florida Power & Light Co. - reported that the storm had knocked out power to nearly three-quarters of its customers. All told, FP&L estimates that some 10 million Floridians will be effected by the power outages – a full 50% of the state’s population.
In fact, officials from the utility say the damage in the southwestern part of the state is so extensive, it could take weeks to fully repair, after Irma shredded powerlines, flooded streets and destroyed homes, according to ABC. One officials said it could be the costliest and most extensive infrastructure-rebuilding effort in US history.
"What we think we'll see on the west coast is a wholesale rebuild of our electric grid," Robert Gould, Florida Power & Light's vice president and chief communications officer, told ABC News. "That will take weeks."
"This thing is a monster," he added.
FPL had requisitioned 17,000 restoration workers from about 30 states in preparation for the storm. But even with an army of workers, the recovery effort will be time-consuming and incredibly costly.
“Gould estimated that FPL positioned "17,000 restoration workers from about 30 states" in anticipation of repair efforts before the storm arrived, but said that flooding from storm surges and traffic congestion as residents return home this week would delay the project.
"This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the most lengthy restoration and most complex in U.S. history," he said, asking that customers be patient.
On the east coast of the state, which avoided a direct hit from the eye of the storm, Gould expects repairs to last "probably a week or more."
Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm as the massive hurricane zeroed in on the Tampa Bay region early Monday after hammering much of Florida with roof-ripping winds, gushing floodwaters and widespread power outages.
The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph with additional weakening expected. As of 2 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 25 miles northeast of Tampa and moving north-northwest near 15 mph.
Irma continues its slog north along Florida’s western coast having blazed a path of unknown destruction. With communication cut to some of the Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall Sunday, and rough conditions persisting across the peninsula, many are holding their breath for what daylight might reveal.