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7,000 customers still without electric service

Two days after nine tornadoes tore through the Tampa Bay area, about 6,000 Tampa Electric and 1,000 Progress Energy customers were still without power Saturday morning.

Power is expected to be restored to most customers by Saturday night, both utility companies reported.

The National Weather Service on Friday confirmed that nine tornadoes — three each in Polk, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties — touched down Thursday as a strong weather front marched through the area.

The majority of the outages were caused by tree limbs knocking down an extraordinary number of power lines.

Tampa Electric Company spokesman Rick Morera said the snapped poles are being replaced with high-wind resistant concrete and steel poles, but the delay in getting power restored is more complicated.

"Some of the homes and businesses were so severely damaged that even if we restore a neighborhood, the customer has problems receiving the power," he said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Oglesby said the tornado outbreak was the worst in the region since 2007, when twisters struck the Villages community near Ocala.

"It's not something you see every year. … It's probably something that happens a couple times a decade," he said.

Substantial damage occurred in the Palm River, Riverview and Interbay Boulevard areas, where the weather service said two tornadoes touched down in a 10-minute period.

The second wave of the storm came onshore about 11 a.m. and took a northeastern track through Pinellas to Polk County.

"Some only lasted for one to two minutes," said Jennifer Colson, a weather service meteorologist. While the tornadoes seemed to be on a track, each touchdown is considered a separate event, she added.

"When it skips and hops, it's not considered a continued path," Colson said.

All nine tornadoes were considered EF-1 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of tornado strength rating, meaning they packed winds from 86 to 110 mph.

By 6 p.m. Friday, about 14,000 Tampa Electric customers were without power in Hillsborough, mostly in South Tampa, Temple Terrace, Brandon and Plant City, Morera said. There were another 4,000 affected Tampa Electric customers in Polk County.

Progress Energy has recruited about 300 extra field workers since Wednesday. Tampa Electric had about 600 workers and 80 contractors working on restoring power, Morera said.

Tampa Electric customers can report power outages or downed power lines through a toll-free automated system at 1-877-588-1010. Progress Energy customers can call 1-800-228-8485.

Reach Robbyn Mitchell at rmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

7,000 customers still without electric service 04/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 2:11pm]
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