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Duke Energy making progress in restoring power in Pinellas
Largo man’s death included on list of Hurricane Irma related fatalities
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Photo courtesy PINELLAS COUNTY
Pinellas County crews work to clear downed trees and other debris Monday afternoon after Hurricane Irma.
More Pinellas County residents had power than not as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13. Duke Energy reports power had been restored to 282,997 customers with 186,404 still without power.

Estimated time for the power to be restored throughout Pinellas and Pasco counties is midnight Friday, Sept. 15.

Pinellas County was one of Duke Energy’s hardest hit areas when Hurricane Irma passed by Sunday and Monday, according to Duke Energy spokesman Neil Nissan. Duke Energy Florida serves 35 counties in the state.

"Our crews are making great progress all around our territory," said Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida president. "We have set restoration times for our counties and are laser-focused on getting customers back on as quickly and safely as possible. We appreciate the patience our customers have shown during this stressful time."

Sideris added that more than 3,000 power poles, more than 1,100 transformers and more than 1,000 miles of wire are being replaced due to storm damage.

Power outages were causing a myriad of problems. People were losing patience as they suffered through the heat. St. Petersburg police put out an alert Wednesday afternoon about people purchasing dryer (pigtails) electric cords to plug their generators into their main panels with the intent of powering their homes. Police warn that this could energize the lines back to the main transformers and downed power lines, which could electrocute power workers. In addition, if workers test the lines before working on them, it could destroy the home generator.

Approximately 197 traffic signals still were inoperable on Wednesday – down from 300 that weren’t working the day before. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office reminds motorists to treat intersections without working signals as a four-way stop. Observe all barricades and detours. Watch for workers collecting debris, and follow all directional instructions and detour signs.

Several lift stations still were without power and Utilities customers are still being asked to limit unnecessary water usage, such as laundry, running dishwashers and flushing toilets.

The heat is becoming a health issue for many due inoperable air conditioners. Eight deaths were reported in south Florida on Wednesday that may be related to heat due to the lack of working air conditioners at a nursing home in Hollywood.

Pinellas County is working with local fire departments and other partners to prevent heat-related illnesses, especially with the elderly population. They are assessing healthcare facilities and finalizing a list of places where residents can stay cool at least part of the day until power is restored. The county is also asking community recreation center, churches and libraries to open their facilities as cooling stations.

Community organizations willing to provide air-conditioning/cooling stations during the heat of the day are asked to call the Citizens Information Center at 727-464-4333. Residents who need a place to stay cool can call the same number.

Residents should drink more water than usual and not wait until they are thirsty. If your doctor limits the amount of fluids you drink, contact them and ask them how much you can drink while your power is out and you have no air conditioning. Residents also are asked to check on neighbors.

Twelve deaths had been confirmed in the state as of Sept. 12, including a 68-year-old Largo man who was packing up his vehicle getting ready to evacuate Sept. 7.

According to Bill Pellan, director of investigations at the Pinellas County Medical Examiner’s Office, the man fell and struck his head. He died Sept. 8. Pellan pointed out that the death was “indirectly” related to Hurricane Irma because the man was preparing to evacuate.

A small number of Pinellas County residents remained in a couple open shelters Wednesday, including special needs residents and a few others that are unable to return to their homes, according to the county public information officer Josh Boatwright.

Local gas stations should have fuel soon. The Port of Tampa reports that four petroleum vessels were unloading gas Wednesday afternoon with seven more ships on the way within the next 24 hours. Tanker trucks were loading up and hundreds of trucks have been picking up fuel over the past few days, tripling the normal amount of activity. Florida Highway Patrol continues to escort tanker trucks to their destinations.

PSTA was running limited service on all routes through Thursday. Limited service will operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on all routes until further notice. Riders should expect decreased frequency on all routes. Call 727-540-1900 for more information.

Businesses were slowly opening throughout the county; however, certain products, such as ice and batteries remain hard to find. Publix, Safeway, Winn Dixie, Walgreens, CVS, Wawa, Home Depot and Lowe’s were on the list of stores that have opened.

Pinellas County Commissioners are scheduled to meet at 11:30 a.m. Thursday to discuss extending the declaration of local state of emergency. Government offices will reopen on Thursday. County parks and preserves, as well as Heritage Village will reopen Saturday, Sept. 16. Visit pinel­lasco­unty.­org for more information.

Pinellas County Schools and St. Petersburg College will open on Monday, Sept. 18. The Department of Health plans to provide limited services at most locations starting on Thursday. Call 727-824-6900. All three Supervisor of Elections offices will open Thursday. The Tax Collector’s office will remain closed.

OneBlood was working to restore operations and says there is an urgent need for platelet donations and O negative blood. Visit www.o­neblo­od.or­g for more information.

Curbside debris pickup will begin in unincorporated county on Monday. Residents should sort debris and place in piles in rights-of-way. Do not stack debris against trees, poles, fire hydrants or storm drains. Do not place debris on sidewalks or in the street.

Debris should be sorted as follows:

• Construction and demolition debris - Building material including roof shingles and siding; drywall, lumber, carpet, furniture and plumbing.

• Vegetation debris – Fallen braches and logs

For more information, call 727-464-8900 or visit www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/pu­blicw­orks.

Residents and businesses who have damage due to Irma can apply for federal assistance by visiting www.D­isast­erAss­istan­ce.go­v. Local offices should open soon to assist those in need of help.

Revised to announce county offices opening on Thursday. Revised to correct number of traffic signals inoperable in all the county. Added opening date for county schools and SPC.

Suzette Porter is TBN's Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at webmaster@tbnweekly.com.

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