Irma toll hits 82 as over 2 million homes suffer without power

MIAMI: About 1.9 million homes and businesses in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas remained without power from Hurricane Irma on Friday, five days after the deadly storm ripped through the US Southeast.
Irma, which ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record before striking the US mainland as a Category 4 hurricane on September 10, took at least 82 deaths. Several hard-hit Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, suffered more than half the fatalities.
About 1.8 million customers were without electricity in Florida, including 281,400 homes and businesses served by municipal power companies and electric cooperatives.
Among the state’s public utilities, Florida Power & Light, owned by NextEra Energy Inc (NEE.N) and the state’s biggest electric company, reported about 1.1 million customers had no power. Duke Energy Corp (DUK.N) said 375,400 customers were in the dark and Tampa Electric, a unit of Emera Inc (EMA.TO), said about 36,600 were without electricity.
Another 116,900 customers in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina also remained in the dark on Friday. At least 32 deaths have been reported in Florida and seven more combined in Georgia and South Carolina.
The death toll includes eight elderly people who died after being exposed to sweltering heat inside a nursing home north of Miami that had been left with little or no air conditioning after the hurricane struck.
The deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Wednesday stirred outrage over what many saw as a preventable tragedy and heightened concerns about the vulnerability of the state’s large elderly population amid widespread, lingering power outages.
“It was unnecessary,” Bendetta Craig, whose 87-year-old mother was among dozens of residents safely moved from the centre, told reporters on Thursday.
“I don’t know what happened inside. I wasn’t there. I hope the truth comes out. It is just senseless,” she said.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has vowed that the state will aggressively investigate how six people died at the nursing home that lost power when the hurricane rampaged through the region.
Police obtained a search warrant on Thursday in their criminal investigation into the deaths, while Florida’s healthcare agency ordered the nursing home to be suspended from the state Medicaid programme.
FPL, which serves nearly 5 million homes and businesses, said it expects to restore power to essentially all its users, in the eastern portion of Florida, by the end of the weekend and the harder-hit western portion of the state by September 22.
Duke, which serves the northern and central parts of Florida, said on its website it expects to restore service to most customers by midnight on Sunday.
Irma rampaged through the Caribbean, devastating several islands and raking the northern shore of Cuba last week before barrelling into the Florida Keys island chain on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 215 km per hour.
US President Donald Trump visited Florida Gulf Coast communities recovering from the hurricane on Thursday, praising first-responders for their role in limiting the loss of life.
Irma wreaked total devastation in parts of the Caribbean, where at least 43 people have died.— Reuters