PINELLAS COUNTY - Progress Energy reported that almost 175,000 residents were without power Sunday evening, and county officials were reporting downed trees, debris on the road and other problems, including damaged and inoperable traffic signals.
County administrator Steve Spratt said that initial damage assessments showed that 20 to 25 traffic signals had been damaged and that 50 to 60 signals were inoperable throughout the county at a press conference broadcast on TV at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. Spratt said county employees were working with Progress Energy to restore power to signals as soon as possible.
Because of the numerous reports of downed trees and debris on roadways, along with the danger of downed power lines, officials from the county and Progress Energy are urging people to stay home and not travel unless absolutely necessary Sunday night.
"There are hazards out there," Spratt said. "We ask that you not venture out and explore.
Residents are reminded to treat intersections with inoperable traffic signals as a four-way stop and to use extreme caution.
Spratt also announced that the mandatory evacuation order for mobile homes, manufactured homes and RV's had been lifted. He said a voluntary evacuation would continue through 5 p.m. Monday.
County schools will be closed on Monday. A curfew has not been issued.
As of 6:15 p.m., bridge closures included the Courtney Campbell, the Sunshine Skyway and the Belleair Causeway.
David Phillips, vice president of Progress Energy, joined Spratt during the press conference to give a report on efforts to restore power to 174,575 customers.
He said workers were currently assessing damage and would not begin efforts to repair downed lines until the winds died down more. Initial reports show "pretty significant damage in the Clearwater and Walsingham area," he said.
After the damage is assessed and the company determines the resources it will have available, a time line will be established for restoring power to customers. Phillips estimated that a time line could be known as early as Monday evening.
Phillips said resources, or manpower, would be a bigger issue with the recovery efforts after Jeanne than with the other storms, but he said several thousands workers would be coming by morning.
"Last time we asked for help from 23 states," he said. "This time we've asked for help from 48 states and Canada."
He said workers were flying in from California and Nevada and would be matched with their trucks when they arrived later this week.
Spratt also advised caution.
"Don't drive over downed power lines. Call our number about any outages. Be careful around water and electrical lines," he said.
Progress Energy's Outage number is (800) 228-8485. For other phone numbers and contract information, click here.
Wind and rain continues
As the sun was going down, tropical storm Jeanne continued to send waves of rain and wind across the county. The storm made landfall in the state Saturday evening and by Sunday morning, residents were feelings its effects.
Hurricane Jeanne was downgraded to a tropical storm at 5 p.m. Sunday as the storm continued on a path, taking it north and west and eventually out of the state.
High winds with gusts reported as high as 78 mph and rain wreaked havoc all day Sunday and similar conditions are forecast to continue throughout most of the night. Forecasters are warning of possible storm surge with tides expected at 2 to 4 feet above normal. High tide is forecast for 12:09 a.m. in Clearwater and 12:14 a.m. in John's Pass.
More than 4 inches of rain was reported Sunday and another inch is expected overnight. A Flash flood watch remains in effect until 5 p.m. Monday.
The National Weather Service is giving the county a 50 percent chance of rain on Monday with winds between 17 and 24 mph.