Power crews and debris clearers worked through the night trying to restore power to Tallahassee and Leon and Wakulla County homes where thousands of residents were in their fourth day without electricity.
The situation created a verbal sparring match between Gov. Rick Scott, who called the situation disappointing, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who characterized it as a near-miracle of restoration against all odds.
"I am incredibly disappointed about where the city is on restoring power," Scott said Monday afternoon. "It has been almost four days since the storm and there are still over 21,000 families and businesses in Tallahassee without power. My focus is on what can the city and county do differently and what additional resources can be provided to fully restore power to all citizens."
Gillum heard that and bristled. "Just to remind you, as well as those of us around the table, that Tallahassee has not had a storm of this proportion in 30 years,” he said at the end of an hour-long conference at the state Emergency Operations Center. “When the storm damage was assessed, after the initial storm on Friday, our staff came back and told me they believed it would be a week before we could get to about 90 percent-plus restoration.
"Today -- this is Monday, Labor Day -- tonight, we will be at 90-plus support."
Ellen Ryder, a resident of the rural, southeast quadrant of the city, told Sunshine State News, "Tallahassee isn't used to this. We're from Port St. Lucie. In South Florida trimming trees away from power lines is a regular thing every year before hurricane season. "Up here I guess they don't expect anything like this."
Ryder said her power was restored at about 4:30 p.m. Monday. She and her partner and neighbors worked together clearing and cutting up tree limbs and debris on the road to make sure repair trucks could get through. "We were lucky," she said. "We had no live, downed lines to worry about."
Gloria Bilecki, who lives with her 10-year-old son off Orange Avenue, said the biggest catastrophe for her was losing the contents of her refrigerator and separate, packed freezer. "Our power was out for nearly three days," she told SSN. "The roads were blocked but we didn't want to go anywhere anyway. It was just so hot." Her power was back on Monday evening.
Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, didn't specifically mention a tug of war between union and nonunion power crews in his media press release. But that was the rumor earlier in the day to answer why dozens of FPL and other power trucks were sitting idle while pockets of Tallahassee and Leon County remain dark. Nor did he mention dissension between himself and Gillum.
Scott released the following statement after a meeting with city and county leaders in Tallahassee:
“This afternoon, I offered the City of Tallahassee and Talquin a proposal that included having utility workers operate side by side with contractors the state hired to be more efficient in restoring power. I am pleased that Talquin has accepted this proposal, and I am eagerly awaiting a response from the City of Tallahassee. As I said during the meeting with local officials this evening, I am appreciative of everyone’s hard work on restoring power, from the call center operators to the line men and women....
“I have been assessing damage in Tallahassee and speaking with members of the community for the past four days. People across the city are frustrated. Right now, some schools are unable to open, businesses can’t open, people cannot go back to work to generate the income to feed their families and the list goes on.
“Both the state and many private companies have offered additional resources many times. In addition to previous offers made since Friday, tonight utility companies have once again offered to aid the city in power restoration efforts. This includes 400 workers from Duke Energy, 300 workers from Florida Power of Light, 75 workers from Gulf Power, 40 workers from Jacksonville Electric Authority and 210 workers from TECO. These companies are currently awaiting the city’s response on whether this is something that could be helpful to restoring power. Earlier today, we announced that in addition to the crews accepted by the City of Tallahassee from the state yesterday, more contractors were deployed at my direction this afternoon to further help restore power. This is something the state will continue to fund and we will keep sending crews.”
“The hurricane season is not over, and next time we could be facing an even stronger storm. Cities and counties must be prepared. The state will continue to offer every available resource to Tallahassee, Leon and Wakulla counties to help families without power so they can begin to recover.”
By day's end Monday, the Department of Management Services announced "all" state buildings will reopen Tuesday and employees should come back to work. But "all" state buildings actually carries some exclusions with it:
- Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – BERKLEY BUILDING. If you work in this office, you will be contacted by your supervisor to advise if you need to report for work tomorrow.
- Department of Management Services – DIVISION OF RETIREMENT, WINEWOOD COMPLEX. This division remains without power.
- Department of Children and Families (DCF) – WINEWOOD OFFICE COMPLEX. This complex remains without power at this time and the office will be closed Tuesday.
- Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) - SPRINGHILL BUILDING. The Springhill facility does not have power. Employees will be directed to report to the Rhyne and Burns buildings where temporary office space will be made available. FDOT has three office buildings in Tallahassee. The two main buildings, the Burns Building and Rhyne Building, have power and are fully functional.
- Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – BOB MARTINEZ CENTER. The Bob Martinez Center will remained closed to ensure employee safety due to downed lines and no power. Unless these conditions change, only essential employees housed in that building are expected to report for work Tuesday.
- Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) – ALEXANDER BUILDING. The Alexander building that houses a smaller headquarters component does not have power. Those staff are advised to work remotely on Tuesday unless power is restored.
And schools will be back in session Wednesday.
Insurance scammers have already begun, according to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
Atwater reporter that in Taylor County local officials and the Department of Financial Services are already investigating complaints of "bad guys" posing as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials demanding a $150 deposit in exchange for helping consumers file hurricane-related insurance claims.
There is no fee to file a FEMA claim and Floridians who encounter this scam should report it by calling the Department’s Consumer Insurance Helpline at 1-877-693-5236, Atwater emphasizes. Consumers can also use the helpline to get free help with filing their hurricane-related claims.
“It’s unconscionable to think that someone would lie and cheat their way into profiting off of catastrophe, but unfortunately, it happens,” says Atwater. “I strongly urge all Floridians to remain vigilant against such scams, and to report all suspicious activity to authorities immediately. My office will thoroughly investigate reports of insurance and financial fraud and will prosecute the offenders to the fullest extent of the law.”
Again Atwater stressed that homeowners use their cell phones to take pictures of damage, notify their insurance companies as soon as possible and remain on alert for suspicious activity.
"Be wary of strangers who call on the telephone or who knock on your door asking for personal information. Ask for a telephone number so can you call back to verify that the entity is legitimate; hang up on anyone who refuses to coordinate in providing such information. Government and insurance officials carry official identification information; ask to see it. Do not give out personal information to anyone before verifying their identity," the CFO advises.
Scott also said FDOT has been working nonstop since Friday on the following:
- Clearing debris such as downed trees and fallen tree limbs;
- Installing 200 generators in the Tallahassee area to support the operation of traffic signals
- Performing road and bridge assessments.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith