A State Built On Air Conditioning Struggles After Irma

MIAMI (AP) — In a state built on air conditioning, millions of Florida residents now want to know one thing: When will the power be back on?

Hurricane Irma’s march across Florida and into the Southeast triggered one of the bigger blackouts in U.S. history, plunging as many as 13 million people into the dark as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out transformers. Those who evacuated ahead of the hurricane are returning to homes without electricity and facing the prospect of days, maybe weeks, with nothing to ease the withering heat and humidity.

“Power, power, power,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do for people is get their power back.”

The Irma blackout is still much smaller than an 2003 outage that put 50 million people in the dark. More than 50,000 utility workers — some from as far away as Canada and California — are responding to the crisis, according to the association that represents the nation’s investor-owned utilities.

The state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, said Irma caused the most widespread damage in company history, affecting all 35 counties in its territory, which is most of the state’s Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast south of Tampa.

On Tuesday, the company announced that it expected to have the lights back on by the end of the weekend for the east coast. Customers living on the hard-hit neighborhoods in southwest Florida, where damage was much more extensive, were expected to get power restored within 10 days.

Utility officials, while noting that people are frustrated, said they are getting power back on faster than they did after Hurricane Wilma hit the state 12 years ago. The company said it had already restored service to nearly 1.8 million customers.

Pierre Ghantos, left, and his son Nathan paddle though their flooded neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Fort Myers, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Photo: AP Photo/David Goldman.

But there were signs on social media that some residents are getting angry and tired of waiting. Others are steeling themselves for an extended period without electricity.

Standing in front of produce cooler at a reopened Publix grocery store in Naples, Missy Sieber said the worst thing about not having electricity is not having air conditioning.

“It’s miserably hot,” Sieber said. “I don’t mind standing in line here.”

Dan Eckler, 46, sat next his luggage at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International airport on Tuesday waiting for a ride after scoring one of the few flights as the airport reopened for the first time after Hurricane Irma.

“I’m soaking up a few last minutes of AC before I return to my house with no electricity,” said Eckler, who lives in Fort Lauderdale and went 16 days without power during Hurricane Wilma.