Thursday, August 16, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Remember normal? It's back, along with electricity, in some parts of Tampa Bay

TAMPA — After their power flickered off amid Hurricane Irma's fury, Sydney and Bob Bell decided to stay at their Sunset Park house with their 15-year-old springer spaniel, Bonnie.

"As dogs get elderly, sometimes they forget they're potty trained," Sydney, 67, said. "She's like our child and we just wanted the three of us to be here at home."

Sydney has seen neighbors get their power back, even as she and her husband remained in their muggy home. But when utility trucks rumbled onto her street Saturday, Sydney sensed it was their turn.

And it was. She was among the last Hillsborough County residents to regain power on Saturday evening. By 6 p.m., state data showed that Tampa Electric had restored service to all of its customers. Duke Energy was also making strides. By 6 a.m. Sunday, about 3 percent of Pinellas customers were without power, along with 1 percent in Pasco and 2 percent in Hernando.

Last weekend, residents hid in their homes or in shelters, frozen in fear as Hurricane Irma churned toward Tampa Bay. But on Saturday, people on both sides of the bay caught a glimpse of normalcy.

For some, it meant loading up a truck with storm debris and not waiting for the city or county truck to visit. They headed to the dump, delivering the last vestiges of Irma from their homes.

Traffic lights at several intersections turned back on.

Recovery seemed possible in Pinellas and most of Hillsborough. But in Pasco, Hernando, and parts of southern Hillsborough, some still grappled with fallout from Irma as the Withlacoochee and other rivers threatened to overflow.

Parts of the Hillsborough and Alafia were under a flood warning on Saturday and moderate flooding was reported along the Withlacoochee near Croom and Trilby. A voluntary evacuation order was in effect and a shelter was opened in Hernando. The Withlacoochee is expected to rise to 17.6 feet next week.

Crews across Tampa Bay continued to work to restore electrical service to the roughly 30,000 people who began their weekends without it.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Ana Gibbs said crews were expected to return service to its roughly 21,000 powerless customers in Pinellas by midnight Saturday.

In some areas, Gibbs added, it could take several hours to make repairs if poles and wires have to be replaced. The company's last goal to restore power in Pinellas — midnight Friday — wasn't met.

"They work crazy hard. I don't fault a single lineman," said Tom Schaefer of Madeira Beach, among those who waited for power. "You can't say oops, we missed it, without realizing that there's repercussions. You're letting a bunch of people down."

Across the Bay area, a supermarket chain stepped up with offers of free ice, and residents drove off with 40 pounds of it at a time.

In Largo, Michelle Cline said she splurged on a hotel stay earlier this week and is trying to save her food with the power of a generator. She hadn't seen Duke Energy linemen on her street.

"We've got two transformers on the ground. No one has come and done anything with them," Cline said. "It's just ridiculous."

In a 11 a.m. statement Saturday, Tampa Electric officials said they had restored power to nearly all customers, including those outside of Hillsborough County. A later update showed all online.

Bell was part of that good news.

At their Sunset Park home, she and her husband had decided to think positive Saturday afternoon. They put away the extension cords and candle holders.

"About the time we finished all of that," Bell said, "Boom! There it was."

For the first time in days, she turned on the A/C. But in less than hour, her home was back in darkness. Crews found some tree limbs on a power line. They told Bell she'd have to wait until Saturday night. She waited and power came back.

At the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, which services customers in Hernando and Pasco, manager Dave Lambert said they had restored 98 percent of customers' power by Saturday afternoon, but it may be three to four days for some rural areas, such as Croom and Floral City, to have power.

"I just came through a place over in Hernando County and they're just pole after pole down," he said. "It's going to take a little while, but we're going to work on it 24/7."

Brush sites were also busy Saturday as residents disposed of leaves and tree branches.

The Hillsborough Northwest County Solid Waste Facility was "very busy" beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, facility spotter Pedro Rices said. "People just keep coming, two or three times, the same people most of the time."

Scott Winterberg and Alex Wallace rolled into the yard just before 1 p.m., their pickup and rented trailer loaded with debris from five homes in their Odessa neighborhood.

It was the first of what they expected to be several trips to the dump, as their community picked up after Hurricane Irma.

"We started Monday after the storm, got it all raked up," said Wallace, a colonel at MacDill Air Force Base.

They acknowledged they could have waited for county workers to come to their homes and collect the yard waste, but decided to bring the loads themselves, tied down atop tarps that made it easier to drag to the waste pile.

It was a similar scene at the City Recycling Center in St. Petersburg. Cheryl Huggins, who said her neighbors banded together to clean up their yards, said she decided that the city had too much going on to pick up their piles.

"You got to pitch in and do your share," she said.

Huggins was on her third trip of the day and still had to clean out her neighbor's yard. But first, she and her granddaughter planned to make a pit stop at a Wawa gas station.

"Alright," Huggins asked as she climbed back into the truck. "Ready for a slurpee?"

For some families, a normal Saturday was already within reach.

Angie Doyle of Keystone joined dozens of parents to watch some of the first games of the season for Keystone Little League, at the Ed Radice Park in Westchase.

Her family evacuated to Jacksonville during Irma, she said, and returned to little damage and a last-minute email alerting them to the Saturday game for her son Jackson's team.

"We're kind of relieved it's back to the schedule," said Doyle, a school social worker. "I'm just happy to get the kids back to routine."

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] Follow @lauracmorel.

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