1. Local Weather

Thousands in Tampa Bay area awaiting electricity's return

The power in Wally Baier's Gulfport home went out Sunday night as Tropical Storm Debby churned hundreds of miles away.

At 2 a.m., the power returned. Baier and his wife reset their alarm clock and coffee machine and went back to bed. An hour later, they heard a loud bang. The lights went out again. This time, for good.

On Tuesday, Baier, a Progress Energy customer, still had no electricity in his house. He has thrown away hundreds of dollars worth of food, listens to a portable radio and charges his cellphone in his car.

"No progress from Progress Energy," Baier said.

He is not alone. Baier's house is among thousands in the Tampa Bay area that remained without power Tuesday as electric companies scrambled to repair the outages. And they don't expect the calls to stop anytime soon.

"As soon as we can get some people on, then the winds come through and it takes other people out," said Rob Sumner, Progress Energy spokesman.

To speed up repairs, about 100 workers from the company's North Carolina branch were headed to the Panhandle on Tuesday.

Progress Energy has restored power to 228,000 homes or businesses in the 35 counties it serves. About 17,000 more were without power as of Tuesday afternoon, with 7,700 in Pinellas and 1,970 in Pasco, Sumner said.

At TECO, which serves 675,000 customers in Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, and Hillsborough counties, there were 1,400 customers, most in Hillsborough, without power Tuesday morning. On Sunday night, that number had reached about 20,000 homes or businesses.

"Our crews have been restoring power as they're able," said TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs, adding that workers typically focus first on harder hit areas with more power outages.

At Withlacoochee River Electric, which serves five counties, among them Hernando and half of Pasco, up to 6,000 customers had no power at one point. On Tuesday afternoon, only about four out of their 200,000 customers didn't have electricity.

"We're doing pretty well," said the company's spokesman, David Lambert.

Electric company officials said they expect more outages as the stormy weather continues.

Until his power gets restored, Baier will continue to light candles at his house, store food in a large cooler, and look at the bright side.

"I guess our electric bill will be lower," he said.