Pinellas County crews work to clear downed trees and other debris Monday afternoon after Hurricane Irma.
About 300,000 Duke Energy customers were still without power Tuesday evening, as thousands of linemen scrambled to make repairs. That’s down from 420,000 outages reported on Monday.
Pinellas County was one of the hardest hit in Duke’s territory, according to Duke Energy spokesman Neil Nissan.
The county began cleanup efforts Monday after Category 1 Hurricane Irma passed by. Residents hunkered down Sunday afternoon through Monday morning as tropical storm force winds and then hurricane force winds buffeted the area for hours.
The biggest problem was power outages. Duke Energy Florida serves 35 counties in Florida, including Pinellas. As of Monday afternoon, 1.2 million of Duke’s 1.8 million customers were without power, according to Harry Sideris, president of Duke Energy Florida.
As of 4 p.m. Monday, 420,000 in Pinellas were without power and power had been restored to nearly 41,000 customers. The best estimate for power restoration is about a week, maybe more in some areas .
“An army of people” are coming to assist including 9,000 linemen, 3,000 of which will be assigned to Pinellas. He said Duke Energy was committed to getting power restored as quickly as possible.
The other big problem was traffic signals. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said hundreds of traffic signals were out throughout the county. Seventy deputies had been assigned to intersection duty, but more were needed. Gualtieri was assessing the need and working with municipal police to get more intersections covered. He said he would ask for help from outside the county if necessary.
As of Tuesday morning, about 300 intersections still were without power. Motorists need to treat intersections as four-way stops to avoid crashes, Gualtieri said.
The sheriff was concerned about motorist “buzzing through intersections” and crashes that could result.
Residents also were being asked to curtail water use to take pressure off the sewer system as lift stations were affected by power outages. Utility customers are asked to not put water down the drain. Do not run washing machines or dishwashers and limit toilet flushing. The drinking water supply is safe. There is no need boil water.
Most damage reports coming in involved debris, downed trees and some flooding. Most primary roads were open and assessment of the road network was complete. Work was continuing to clear debris.
About 1,700 people remained in shelters Monday afternoon - about 10 percent of the number that had been served, starting on Friday. Pinellas County issued a Level A and Level B evacuation orders, which included all mobile homes, affecting about 260,000 residents.
As of Tuesday morning, the county reported that a small number of residents remained in the shelters. The county was working with its partners – Salvation Army and American Red Cross – to provide support for residents with special needs dependent on electricity. Animal Services is following up with owners of pets that were transported to the shelter.
Restricted access to the barrier islands was lifted Monday afternoon, and all bridges were open.
Pinellas County offices will remain closed Wednesday due to power outages. Solid Waste opened on Tuesday. County parks and Heritage Village will reopen on Sept. 16. Schools will reopen Monday, Sept. 18.
St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport planned to reopen on Tuesday. PSTA buses had resumed normal service.
Residents were asked to beware of price gouging and to be wary of hiring anyone to do repair work on their homes or businesses that weren’t licensed contractors. Officials also advised to not pay the full cost of repairs in advance. For more information, visit www.pcclb.com or www.pinellascounty.org/consumer.
Fuel supplies were OK, according to Gualtieri. Port of Tampa has reopened and fuel tankers were ready to make deliveries. Gov. Rick Scott has ordered that all fuel trucks be escorted by Florida Highway Patrol to get them to their destinations quicker.
Several stores, including some of the bigger box stores, announced they would be opening on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, residents were asked to use caution as they moved around the county and to report any problem to authorities. Watch for debris on the roads and don’t drive through standing water.
The county Economic Development office staff will be available Wednesday, Sept. 13, to assist businesses that need to apply for disaster loans. Call 727-453-7200. Residents who have damage due to Irma can apply for federal assistance from FEMA. Visit www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
Pinellas County “planned for the worst, and hoped for the best,” as was said repeatedly during the many press briefing held ahead of Irma’s arrival.
Fortunately, Pinellas dodged the bullet. Irma took a north turn and tracked east, making landfall in Marco Islands Sunday afternoon. Interaction with land weakened the storm, which had been forecast to pass over Pinellas a Category 3 or 4.
Peak wind gusts reported around the county included 91 mph at Fort DeSoto, 87 mph in Belleair and 84 mph on Clearwater Beach. Rainfall totals up to 8 inches were reported in some areas and storm surge of 1-3 feet.
Officials were asked for patience as cleanup efforts continued with plans to return to normalcy as soon as possible.