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Fla. governor warns of 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael


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Fla. governor warns of 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael

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Employees of the Old Port Cove restaurant in Homosassa, Fla., assemble sandbags on Oct. 9 as Hurricane Michael approached.
Source: Associated Press

Florida utilities and a nuclear operator say they are prepared for the arrival of Hurricane Michael, now a Category 4 storm projected to make landfall in the state's panhandle during the afternoon of Oct. 10.

Nearly 1,800 MW of Florida's energy capacity is in Michael's potential path, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, including three large gas-fired power plants. Gov. Rick Scott said the storm's effects would begin to be felt in the panhandle and Big Bend areas the night of Oct. 9.

And as Michael continues northeast through southern Alabama and most of Georgia, three nuclear plants are in the hurricane's possible course. Southern Nuclear Operating Co., the manager of those facilities, says it is monitoring Michael and is on standby for any preventative action.

"This is your last chance to get prepared for this monstrous and deadly storm," Scott said at a news conference Oct. 9, later declaring that Michael is "forecasted to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades."

Panama City, Fla., is where the National Hurricane Center predicts Michael will make landfall after 1 p.m. on Oct. 10. The city is also home to Gulf Power Co.'s Lansing Smith combined-cycle plant, a 552-MW facility located on a bay just off the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf Power spokesman Gordon Paulus said in a statement that a storm of Michael's magnitude could mean power restoration in hardest-hit areas may take up to a week or more. The utility, a Southern Co. subsidiary that serves more than 460,000 customers, says more than 1,500 of its employees and more than 2,240 outside resources will be in northwest Florida prepared to work.

"Customers can be assured that we will work every minute to restore power as long as it is safe to do so," Paulus said. "We are working our storm plans. We have already been tested this year with Subtropical Storm Alberto and Tropical Storm Gordon, so we are ready."

Scott, who has talked on the phone with Gulf Power Chairman, President and CEO Stan Connally, said nearly 17,000 power restoration workers across Florida are already staged, with more being made ready. "We are going to do everything we can to get our utilities to share resources, share materials, whatever the needs are," Scott said.

The governor said the cities of Pensacola and Tallahassee could experience sustained hurricane-force winds of 75 mph or more, along with 12 inches of "torrential rain" in some areas of the panhandle. National forecasters say a large stretch of the region could see eight to 12 feet of storm surge, with Scott reminding of the possibility that water can come miles inshore and easily rise.

National forecasters, writing in an 8 a.m. ET update on Oct. 10, called Michael "extremely dangerous" and "potentially catastrophic," adding that maximum sustained winds have been measured at 145 mph.

Flooding was a major issue when Hurricane Florence struck the Carolinas in September, and a Duke Energy Corp. gas plant remains offline weeks after that storm passed.

Duke Energy Florida LLC spokeswoman Peveeta Devi Persaud said in an email that Michael could cause between 100,000 to 200,000 power outages in its service territory of 1.8 million customers, and that some blackouts could last several days to more than a week.

Other gas-fired facilities in Michael's immediate path are the 330-MW Hopkins and the 258-MW Purdom plants, owned by the Tallahassee municipal utility. Spokeswoman Alison Faris said in an email that Purdom was evacuated the night of Oct. 9 due to the threat of storm surge, while Hopkins is running as usual with around-the-clock staffing.

And in preparation for the coming rain, the utility lowered nearby Lake Talquin 12 inches to facilitate continued operations of the 11-MW Corn hydro facility, Faris said. Staff will remain on site there 24/7 as well.

Alabama, Georgia next

Michael's feeder bands will pass over southeast Alabama and the middle swath of Georgia throughout Oct. 11, and Southern utilities Alabama Power Co. and Georgia Power Co. own nuclear plants — Farley, Hatch and Vogtle — in the potential path.

"We are making all necessary preparations," Southern Nuclear spokeswoman Jessica Nissenbaum wrote in an email, adding that the company is watching Michael closely. If a decision is made to shut down any of the three plants' units, Southern Nuclear will notify the public.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said in an email that while the utility does not have an estimate on the potential number of outages, high winds are expected that are likely to blow trees and vegetation onto distribution lines.