TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — In a state built on air conditioning, millions of Florida residents now want to know: When will the power come back on?
Hurricane Irma’s march across Florida and 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. Gone were the climate-controlled bubbles people relied on in Florida’s sweltering heat and humidity.
In Hollywood, Florida, eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning, raising fears Wednesday about the safety of Florida’s 4 million senior citizens amid power outages that could last for days. Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: “The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation.”
Meanwhile, millions who evacuated ahead of the storm are now returning to homes without electricity. They could face days or even weeks with little to ease the late-summer stickiness. By Wednesday afternoon, state emergency management officials estimate that one third — or 6.4 million — residents remained without power in the Sunshine state.
Most Read Stories
“Power, power, power,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said recently. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do for people is get their power back.”
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 of the nation’s investor-owned utilities.
“The industry’s Irma response is one of the largest and most complex power restoration efforts in U.S. history,” said Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group that represents all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. “Given the size and strength, infrastructure systems will need to be rebuilt completely in some parts of Florida.”
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 — most of the state’s Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast south of Tampa.
The company on Tuesday said it expected to…