With damage as far as the eye can see, crews are working tirelessly to clean up the Florida Panhandle after Hurricane Michael. Debris, especially downed power lines which could still be energized, must be cleared before people can safely come back. Also, power has to be restored.as quickly as possible. According to this report, more than 277,000 customers in this region had no electricity as of early Friday afternoon, most of them along a 90-mile stretch from Panama City to St. Marks. An improvement from around 337,000 the previous afternoon, but there’s a lot more work to do.
In order to speed up power restoration, Florida governor Rick Scott has offered each utility in the state the additional federal push crews needed to reach all the affected communities. Normally, power restoration workers remove downed trees and debris that get in their way. However, the push crews will go in advance of utility crews and clear their paths. This way utility crews can focus solely on restoring power and not get overworked. These crews are being provided through a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) and will be funded through Scott’s emergency order issued on Thursday.
“Restoring power in our communities quickly is one of the most vital things we can do to help families get back on their feet. These additional crews will help get utility restoration workers into our communities faster, so they can do their jobs and bring back the power. We hope that every utility acts quickly and takes advantage of this offer for assistance,” said Scott. “We must do everything we can to get the lights back soon.”
Also, SERT has made first responder fueling depots available to utility crews across the Panhandle. This helps ensure that utility restoration trucks have the fuel they need so they can restore power faster. Scott tweeted Friday morning “Right now, we have half a million gallons of fuel being distributed daily at 40 fueling stations to support our utility crews as they work around the clock to restore power.” He also said he’ll be providing around 200 generators for each county to help local governments get traffic lights back on.
Brock Long, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) asked people on Friday to be patient and not return home while crews work to reopen areas.
“It’s still not safe to return, particularly to Bay County, Florida. There is no infrastructure there to support you and quite honestly it’s a dangerous area to go back into,” said Long. “Anybody who evacuated Mexico Beach who is in a shelter, it’s going to be a long time before they’re actually able to go back and return to those places because it was heavily damaged.”
According to Governor Scott’s office, in 2016, following Hurricane Hermine, Scott set an expectation that each utility company in Florida have mutual aid agreements in place to save time during mass power outages. These agreements define roles and responsibilities during power outages so Floridians are better protected and power can be restored efficiently. Before the Governor set this expectation in 2016, only approximately 60% of utility companies in Florida had agreements in place. Just prior to Hurricane Michael making landfall more than 90% of utilities in Florida had existing mutual aid agreements.
In other affected states, Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia expanded his State of Emergency to include 16 more counties, going from 92 to 108. He also activated 1,500 Georgia Guardsmen to be placed on standby to deploy as needed to areas affected by the hurricane. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has activated 150 National Guard soldiers to “preserve life and safety, clear roads, and support communications and logistics”, according to a press release.