Power Restoration, Search Efforts Continue as Biden Arrives in SW Florida After Ian

The effort to restore power in southwest Florida continued Wednesday as the search and recovery mission for anyone still trapped inside flooded or damaged homes after Hurricane Ian continued and President Joe Biden was visiting the area.

Over 300,000 customers remained without power in Florida Wednesday, a week after Ian made landfall in the state.

Ian knocked out power to 2.6 million customers across Florida after it roared ashore with 150 mph winds and a powerful storm surge. State officials said they expect power to be restored by Sunday to customers whose power lines and other electric infrastructure is still intact.

The number of storm-related deaths has risen to more than 100 in recent days, NBC News reported.

There have been deaths in vehicle wrecks, drownings and accidents. A man drowned after becoming trapped under a vehicle. Another got trapped trying to climb through a window. And a woman died when a gust of wind knocked her off her porch while she was smoking a cigarette as the storm approached, authorities said.

In hardest-hit Lee County, Florida, all storm-related deaths were people over age 50.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were visiting southwest Florida on Wednesday. The two arrived in Fort Myers on Air Force One and were met by rescue workers and others at the airport before boarding a helicopter to tour the damaged areas by air.

RAW: President Joe Biden and first lady Jilly Biden arrive in Fort Myers a week after Hurricane Ian devastated the area.

Biden planned to meet with residents and small business owners in Fort Myers and to thank government officials providing emergency aid and removing debris.

He’s also expected to meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott.

Meanwhile, as floodwaters begin to recede, power restoration has become job one in the state.

A Florida man used his experience as a former rescue diver and police officer to rescue his mother when the storm surge from Hurricane Ian overtook her home. NBC 6’s Jamie Guirola reports

Eric Silagy, Chairman and CEO of Florida Power & Light — the largest power provider in the state — said he understands the frustration and that 21,000 utility workers from 30 states are working as hard as they can to restore power as quickly as possible. The utility expects to have power restored to 95% of its service areas by the end of the day Friday, he said.

The remaining 5% are mostly special situations where it’s difficult to restore electricity, such as the home being so damaged it can’t receive power or the area still being flooded. Those outages don’t include customers whose homes or businesses were destroyed.

Power restoration is always a key challenge after major hurricanes, when high winds and flying debris can topple power lines or major parts of the electricity infrastructure.

Silagy said the utility has invested $4 billion over the last 10 years to harden its infrastructure, doing things like burying more power lines, noting that 40% of its distribution system is now underground. The utility is also using more technology such as drones that can stay aloft for hours to get a better picture of damage, and sensors at substations that alert the utility to flooding so it can shut off parts of the system before the water arrives.

Silagy said he saw during Ian where those investments paid off. Concrete utility poles remained standing at Fort Myers Beach, where many homes and businesses were wiped away. The company also didn’t lose a single transmission structure in the 8,000 miles it covers in Florida.

NBC 6’s Jamie Guirola has more on the efforts from first responders nearly one week after the storm’s impact.

Meanwhile, in Florida neighborhoods still without power, many residents have been sharing generators to keep things like refrigerators cool, and using outdoor grills to cook.

In Bonita Springs, Paula Arbuckle was sitting outside her one-story home while the sound of the generator under her carport roared. She bought a generator after Hurricane Irma left her neighborhood without power in 2017. She hadn’t used it since, but after Ian took out the lights, she’s been sharing it with her next-door neighbor. Arbuckle said it’s difficult being without power.

“But I’m not the only one,” she said. Gesturing to her neighbor’s house she said: “I have a generator. They have a little baby over there. So we’re sharing the generator between the two homes.”

DeSantis said Tuesday that he’s directed the Florida Department of Transportation to prioritize repairs to the Sanibel Causeway, which was heavily damaged by Ian.

The governor said the causeway could be accessible by the end of October, which would help with recovery efforts including power restoration and debris removal.