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Utilities see massive power outages after Michael's 'unimaginable destruction'


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Utilities see massive power outages after Michael's 'unimaginable destruction'

SNL Image

Kylie Strampe holds her four-month-old daughter while standing in front of a downed utility pole in Callaway, Fla., on Oct. 11.
Source: AP Images

More than a million accounts in the southeastern U.S. were without power as Tropical Storm Michael moved through the Carolinas and approached Virginia in the late afternoon on Oct. 11, with state and utility leaders describing sweeping destruction as workers began to assess damage and restore electricity.

Although the majority of Florida homes and businesses have their lights on, the state's panhandle and Big Bend regions were devastated when Michael made landfall in Mexico Beach, Fla., in the early afternoon of Oct. 10, with wind speeds of 155 mph, just two mph shy of being classified as a Category 5 hurricane.

Over a quarter of Southern Co. subsidiary Gulf Power Co.'s 460,000 accounts experienced outages at their peak, while 50,000 of Talquin Electric Cooperative Inc.'s 53,000 customers were in the dark at one point. The Tallahassee, Fla., municipal utility, about 160 miles northeast of Mexico Beach, did not provide a peak outage figure, but 105,000 customers in a city of 191,000 people were without power after 4 p.m. ET.

Duke Energy Florida LLC disclosed "massive damage," with 80% of customers in affected counties losing electricity on Oct. 11. At the peak, around 31,000 Duke Energy Florida accounts were without power.

"The Gulf Power system held strong from Pensacola to Fort Walton Beach — a testament to the investments we've made to harden our infrastructure," Gulf Power spokesman Jeff Rogers said in a statement. "But the hardest-hit areas around Panama City may need to be rebuilt from the ground up," he added, saying that could take weeks.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, speaking at a morning press conference on Oct. 11, reported more than 400,000 outages statewide, with that figure just under 390,000 as of 3 p.m. ET, according to the state's Division of Emergency Management.

Residents woke up to "unimaginable destruction," Scott said. "Homes are gone, businesses are gone. Roads and infrastructure along the storm's path have been destroyed. This hurricane was an absolute monster, and the damage left in its wake is still yet to be fully understood."

Southern Co. Chairman, President and CEO Tom Fanning said during an Oct. 11 appearance on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that he had "never seen that kind of strength before" from a hurricane. "Let me tell you, the devastation, the pictures associated with this storm are just amazing."

"The preparation of this industry has been terrific," Fanning added. "We're going to work really hard" to restore power. The Edison Electric Institute, an industry lobbying group, said more than 30,000 linemen from 24 states are working on downed infrastructure.

At the peak, Southern utilities Gulf Power, Alabama Power Co. and Mississippi Power Co. experienced 530,000 outages, Fanning said.

Outages after Florida

Michael then made a relatively short passage through Alabama's southeast corner as a Category 3 hurricane, where 6% of Alabama Power's 1.4 million accounts were without power, and 18,000 of Wiregrass Electric Cooperative Inc.'s 23,000 customers were in the dark.

The weather system then spent the night of Oct. 10 traveling northeast through Georgia as a Category 1 hurricane, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm. As of 3:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 11, Georgia Power Co. had restored service to 234,000 customers, with another 116,000 still without service.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said there were initially more than 450,000 outages statewide, including residents served by electric membership corporations, or EMCs, and municipal utilities. Even after Michael left the state, around 177,000 EMC customers were still in the dark at 3 p.m. ET on Oct. 11.

"If you were one that got hit, it was a real disaster," Deal said at a morning press conference on Oct. 11. Georgia officials are focusing on damage assessment and debris removal, as linemen could not work in the dark when Michael arrived at night.

Michael then traversed through South Carolina and North Carolina on Oct. 11, approaching Greensboro, N.C., as of 2 p.m. ET, according to the National Hurricane Center. Duke Energy Corp. predicted 300,000 to 500,000 outages among its two utilities, Duke Energy Carolinas LLC and Duke Energy Progress LLC, which serve both North and South Carolina.

"This storm will not go down without a fight," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a morning press conference on Oct. 11. "It is still a threat and should be taken seriously."

According to, which aggregates outage figures from electric providers across the country, more than 345,000 North Carolina accounts were without power after 4 p.m. ET on Oct. 11, with nearly 43,000 South Carolina customers were in the dark.

Almost 329,000 Florida electric customers were without power at that same time, while more than 233,000 Georgia customers did not have electricity. Just over 43,000 Alabama customers were in the dark then as well.

National forecasters projected the core of Michael would cross from North Carolina into Virginia at around 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 11, continuing as a tropical storm before turning into a tropical depression over the Atlantic Ocean. Nearly 53,000 Virginia electric customers were experiencing outages after 4 p.m. that day.

Michael passed east of Southern's Farley nuclear plant in Alabama, which had pre-emptively reduced its power output in advance of the hurricane's arrival. The storm passed further west than expected of the Vogtle nuclear plant in Georgia, according to the Energy Information Administration, but Michael nearly made a direct passage over South Carolina's Summer nuclear plant.

The Harris nuclear plant in North Carolina was just within range of Michael's feeder bands, with a number of the Tar Heel State's solar plants in the storm's path as well.