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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press Sandra Pagan, left, escapes the heat Tuesday inside her home with her dog Goldo and nephew Misael Fernandez after Hurricane Irma flooded their neighborhood leaving them without power in Fort Myers, Fla.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 1:00 am

Floridians sweating it out amid lack of air conditioning


David Guerra stood in his yard in southeast Miami, sweating. He'd suffered through the terror of 100 mph-plus winds flung off by Irma and was now descending into the special hell of a megastorm's aftermath.

A big tree next door had toppled onto a power line at 4:10 a.m. Saturday. Sparks flew, a transformer exploded, the lights went out. Guerra, his wife and son faced the misery of going days, if not weeks, without a working stove or refrigerator or, most importantly, air conditioning.

“Before AC, nobody lived in Florida – and for good reason,” Guerra, 55, said Monday when the temperature was sitting at 88 degrees. “It's easy to forget that this is really a jungle we live in. We're going to go back to the jungle.”

The state may have been spared the most horrible loss of life and destruction of property so many had predicted, but it's hard to overstate the scale of devastation Irma's fury brought to the power grid and those who depend on it. All told, 5.5 million homes and businesses didn't have service as of 12:02 p.m. Tuesday, down from 6.4 million Monday.

The challenge: turning the power back on in a place whose explosive growth was built on air conditioning.

“It's a magnitude we just haven't seen before,” Eric Silagy, CEO of NextEra Energy Inc.'s Florida Power & Light, the state's biggest utility, told reporters Monday. “This is the largest restoration in the company's history.”

There's a lot of human misery behind the numbers, with hospitals, nursing homes, schools and more out of juice. Guerra, a software technician, works from home – not a possibility at the moment.

It's the heat, though, that compounds the other problems. Guerra has thrown open his windows and doors, and all that seems to do is let more mosquitoes in. Temperatures are forecast to remain in the high 80s in Miami over the next five days.

“Look how much I smell, my dog smells, everyone smells,” he said. “All you do is think of how you can escape. But there is no escape.”

Power – and air conditioning – is such a big deal that Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted preparations to restore service during multiple briefings since Irma began to threaten the state a week ago. “We have to get everybody with their electricity back,” Scott said Monday afternoon. “Unfortunately everyone has to be patient because it will take a long time. This was a serious storm.”