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TAMPA BAY, Fla. – More than 300,000 people in the Tampa Bay area have been ordered to head to higher ground as Hurricane Ian inches closer to Florida. Those who have decided to stay in the state's third most-populated city might be left in the dark – literally.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians to take precautions and declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties ahead of the impacts of Hurricane Ian. Some mandatory evacuations were ordered Monday in the Tampa Bay area, and Tampa's airport was set to shut down at 5 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday.
Tampa Electric said they are prepared to respond to severe weather expected to affect Florida in the coming days.
The electric company, which serves more than 800,000 customers in West Central Florida, said they might interrupt service to a small portion of evacuated Zone A in downtown Tampa in an effort to help reduce restoration time. The proactive shutdown could happen as early as Wednesday.
"The safety of our customers and our equipment is our top priority, and if you live in an evacuated zone, I urge you to take immediate action," said Archie Collins, president and CEO of Tampa Electric. "Hurricane Ian is a large and unpredictable storm. While the path remains uncertain, we anticipate significant storm surge, and I encourage our customers to prepare for extended power outages."
By proactively shutting down certain network parts ahead of the storm, the utility company said they could avoid serious damage to the underground equipment from saltwater storm surge. The goal is to significantly shorten restoration time after the hurricane passes.
The proactive electrical outage is expected to affect Harbor Island, two Channelside hotels, the transportation center and most of Davis Islands. It will not affect Tampa General Hospital, the company said.
If Hurricane Ian follows a track near the center of the forecast cone, it would be nearly a worst-case scenario for the Tampa Bay area because the powerful winds in Ian's eyewall would plow through the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. This track would also push life-threatening storm surge directly into Tampa Bay.
Florida Power & Light Company Chairman and CEO Eric Silagy said their company typically does not proactively shutoff the power before a storm.
"We want our customers to have power as absolutely long as possible," he said. "We do have flood monitors in all of our substations. That's a learning that came from Superstorm Sandy problems that they had up in the Northeast."
Silagy said they do monitor to make sure that the equipment is not going to be flooded while it's energized.
"And so if there was super high water or a storm surge, it was going to inundate a substation before that was completely flooded. We would proactively then turn that off and that would impact probably several thousand customers. But that is under extreme circumstances."
Silagy said they need to protect the equipment and to make sure crews can get it back up as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it's destroyed, and then it takes days to replace it.
Customers in the path of the storm should be prepared for extended power outages. As Ian’s outer bands begin to affect customers, FPL said they will restore power as long as it’s safe to do so.
During the storm, the company plans to use smart grid technology to remotely restore power to customers where possible.
"Immediately following the hurricane, once winds drop below 35 miles per hour, FPL will continue restoration and conduct damage assessments with field crews," the utility company said in a written statement. "These assessments, which include data gathered from a fleet of drones, help us assign the right resources to each geographical region and give customers an accurate estimate of when we will complete restoration in each region."
Duke Energy said they are initially mobilizing nearly 10,000 lineworkers, tree professionals, damage assessment and support personnel to safe locations in its Florida service areas and will be prepared to respond to outages once it is safe to do so.
Additional line workers and support personnel from Duke Energy’s service territories in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio will arrive throughout the day, along with help from mutual assistance organizations.
Placing crews near areas that will likely be affected by this system allows for the quickest and safest response after a storm passes through.