CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - One year after Hurricane Irma stormed through the Florida Keys and left millions of Floridians in the dark, Florida Power and Light says it’s ready to handle the next storm threat.
Almost 90 percent of FPL customers in Miami-Dade and Broward counties lost electricity. In the days after the storm, most got power back, but others had no electricity, and no air conditioning, for more than a week.
“Yesterday it was 90 degrees in our house,” said a resident.
“We’re begging you, because this is tragic,” said another resident.
A woman said she considered taking legal action.
“My mother is 72 years old there, and if she dies of heat, I will be suing the [expletive] out of FPL,” she said.
Now, one year later, FPL has reviewed what went right, and wrong, during and after Irma.
“This was the largest restoration effort that we had ever seen in our company history, if not the history of the industry, the electric industry, so it was a huge undertaking,” said FPL spokesperson Tyler Mauldin.
Irma knocked out power to a record 4.4 million customers. FPL says it took 10 days to restore power to nearly all homes and businesses.
By comparison, during FPL’s last major test, Hurricane Wilma in 2005, 3.2 million customers lost electricity. It took 18 days to restore power.
“We were able to shave eight days off the restoration time, compared to 13 years ago with Wilma,” said Mauldin. “That’s because of the ‘smart grid’ technology and the concrete poles we have been installing.”
FPL credits $3 billion in infrastructure improvements made after Wilma for its electric grid largely holding up during Irma.
“During Hurricane Wilma, we lost more than 12,000 poles. During Hurricane Irma, just over 4,000, so a fraction of that,” said Mauldin.
FPL says it had 28,000 workers restoring power after Irma, including crews from out of state.
Still, the hurricane presented challenges for Florida’s largest power company.
“During Hurricane Irma, trees and vegetation and wind-blown debris were the number one cause of power outages,” said Mauldin.
Perhaps nowhere was that problem more visible than in Coral Gables. Delays in restoring power led to a legal fight between the city and FPL, a blame game generated by questions over who was responsible for trimming trees.
City officials said they have replaced weaker ficus trees with a stronger species and are allowing homeowners to do the same. They said they’re more prepared this storm season.
“Our communications with FPL have improved, and we’re just being, generally, more proactive across the board,” said Brook Dannemiller with the City of Coral Gables.
When it comes to communicating with its customers, FPL said it has learned hard lessons from Irma.
Frustrated residents found they couldn’t get answers because FPL’s online platforms were overwhelmed by users.
“Our mobile app and our website saw way more traffic then we ever anticipated, so what we have done is worked with our vendors and folks in the technology department have worked together to make sure that that will never happen again,” said Mauldin.
FPL officials said they are working on more accurate ways to let people know when their power will be turned back on.
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