Utility companies in Florida are working around the clock to restore power, but officials warn the task may take weeks to even months to complete in the hardest-hit areas.
Hurricane Ian made landfall on Sept. 28 as a Category 4 storm with winds estimated to be about 150 mph. During the height of the outages, more than 2.5 million customers were without power.
Many of those outages were customers of Florida Power and Light, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric and a few dozen other municipally owned electric companies and rural electric cooperatives.
More than a week after the storm, the number of customers without power has been reduced by more than 90%, but some of the biggest challenges lie ahead.
Who’s without power right now?
More than 100,000 customers are without power in the U.S., mostly in Puerto Rico and Florida, but the Sunshine State is home to a large majority of the outages.
Of the state’s 67 Florida counties, outages are reported by PowerOutage.US in about a handful of them in the state. Outages stretch from the Gulf Coast to Central Florida's east coast.
Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said power has been restored to more than 2 million customers. According to PowerOutage.US, power outages in Florida have dropped to around 70,000 customers as of Saturday morning.
The highest concentrations are around the Fort Myers, Port Charlotte and Sebring areas. These regions saw the most destructive winds, the heaviest rainfall and deadly storm surge.
How long will power be out?
For some, it was a matter of hours before their power was restored. Meanwhile, customers in the hardest-hit areas will go more than a week without power or possibly longer where damages make restoring power unsafe.
The state’s largest electricity provider, Florida Power and Light, said they’ve restored power to approximately 1.9 million customers.
Severe flooding damaged infrastructure in Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto, Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Highlands, Glades and Hendry counties, but FP&L expects to have 95% of customers in those counties back up by the end of Friday.
As of Tuesday, Lee County, where Ian made landfall, is about 70% restored.
FP&L CEO Eric Silagy said linemen and women from 30 states are contributing to restoration efforts that are now concentrating on the hardest-hit areas.
"There is still a lot of work to be done," Silagy said. "It's still hand-to-hand combat, if you will, of yard-to-yard, tree-by-tree, of getting the lines cleared off of those that were damaged and sometimes the polls that have to be replaced."
Statewide, at least 42,000 utility and power crews are working to get the lights back on as fast as possible.
Gutherie said Monday that the goal is to have all customers back up by Oct. 10.
"That is a goal that they are trying to hit, to have all customers that can receive power by Sunday of this week," he said. "This does not include those areas catastrophically hit where there is absolutely no infrastructure, no homes and so on."
The last to be restored will be the hardest-hit areas that suffered extensive damages to the power grid or that are unsafe to accept power safely.
Lee County Electric Cooperative provides power to some hardest-hit places, including the barrier islands of Captiva, Sanibel and Pine Island. LCEC said in an update Monday that restoration to those areas will be determined once access to the islands is re-established.
About 41% of LCEC's six-county service area has been restored, excluding Sanibel and Pine Island.
The Florida Department of Transportation began work Monday to build a temporary road and bridge to access Pine Island.
How do restoration times compare to past storms?
The outages pale in comparison to Hurricane Irma, which knocked out power to 6.7 million electrical customers.
Hurricane Irma struck Florida on Sept. 10, 2017, and by Sept. 19, only about 100,000 customers were without power, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The administration reported the state had a recovery rate of about 9% of total customers per day until the hardest-hit areas were the only ones without power.
The restoration took several weeks to complete in the hard-hit areas and relied on water levels receding, and roadway clearing before crews could address needed work.
Restoration rates after Hurricane Wilma in 2005 were significantly lower than in Irma despite only 36% of the state’s customers being impacted.
The administration reported that the recovery rate was about 4% of customers per day.
Energy experts attribute the faster restoration efforts in more recent storms to utilities spending millions of dollars every year on hardening infrastructure and better preparation for natural disasters.