TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In a state built on air conditioning, millions of Florida residents now want to know one thing: When will the power come 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. It also shattered the climate-controlled bubbles that enable people to live here despite the state’s heat, humidity and insects.
Those who evacuated ahead of the hurricane are returning to homes without electricity and facing the prospect of days or even weeks with little to ease the late-summer stickiness.
“Power, power, power,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do for people is get their power back.”
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The Irma blackout is still much smaller than a 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 in the hard-hit neighborhoods in southwest Florida, where damage was much more extensive, were expected to get power restored within 10 days.
While acknowledging the public’s frustration, utility officials 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.
Any disaster that wipes out electrical service hits especially hard in the South, where tens of millions of Americans rely on the cocoon of comfort provided by air conditioning. Without it, many cities could barely exist, let alone prosper. When the lights go out in Florida, the muggy, buggy reality can be jarring even to longtime residents.
There were signs on social media that some people were growing angry and tired of waiting. Others steeled themselves for an extended…