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1.5 million without power in area

KissimmeeProgress Energy IncorporatedCompanies and CorporationsHealth

More than 1.5 million Central Florida residents went to bed Saturday night without electricity to cool their homes, warm their showers or refrigerate their food.

And as much as a week may pass before the last of them can turn the lights back on in the wake of Hurricane Charley's Friday night assault along Interstate 4 through Orlando.

Gusts of more than 100 mph uprooted and split trees large and small, driving them onto power lines and shutting off nearly 800,000 homes and businesses from just west of Walt Disney World to the Volusia County coast.

In Winter Park, hundreds of large trees, mainly oaks, were tossed on their sides, cracking dozens of water mains. Fear of contamination caused city officials to advise residents to boil their water before using it for cooking or drinking.

Other boil-water orders were issued for Fox Squirrel Drive in Kissimmee, Morningside Village, Bay Lake Estates and Silver Swan Court.

People across the region also were asked to conserve water because the widespread power outages shut down pumping stations -- 200 alone in Orange County. That could cause sewage backups if people shower or use toilets too often.

"Everything is tied to power," Orange County Administrator Ajit Lalchandani said.

The main electric companies in Central Florida -- Orlando Utilities Commission, Progress Energy Florida, Florida Power & Light and Kissimmee Utility Authority -- dispatched hundreds of crews to replace broken poles, snapped lines, dead transformers and shorted-out circuits, some of which lit the night with eerie blue or greenish lights as they failed.

Many workers were brought in from out-of-state companies or other in-state divisions.

Utility spokespeople pleaded for patience from customers sweating in the humid aftermath of Charley, saying repair teams were working as hard as they could.

Most crews were putting in 16-hour shifts to cope with the damage, much of it in neighborhoods with old, full trees. They include College Park, northwest of downtown Orlando; Thornton Park, east of downtown; Maitland; Winter Park; virtually all of Kissimmee and subdivisions in eastern Polk County.

Newer developments with young, undeveloped trees and underground utilities handled Charley the best, officials said.

"You've just got to see how those trees are tangled up in those power lines," OUC spokesperson Roseann Harrington said.

OUC, which has about 190,000 customers, lost as many as 150,000 of them through early Saturday morning. That number fell to roughly 100,000 Saturday evening.

Progress Energy Florida, based in Raleigh, N.C., estimated that more than 409,000 customers were without power in Orange, Lake, Seminole, Osceola, Volusia and Polk counties late Saturday. More than 170,000 of those were in Orange.

Almost all of KUA's 70,000 customers lost power Saturday. No estimate was available for how many were turned back on.

FP&L, based in South Florida, reported 140,000 customers without electricity in Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties. A spokeswoman would not speculate on when power might be restored.

The majority of the customer base for all the utilities is households, which typically have 2.5 inhabitants, according to the U.S. census. That pushed the number without power Saturday night past 1.5 million.

At least five Central Florida hospitals had to rely on back-up generators during the hurricane, but overall they reported few difficulties. Patients included people with storm-related complaints, including chest pain, anxiety, lacerations from debris and some fractures.

"Everything is pretty much normal," said Karen Marcarelli with Florida Hospital, which has seven hospitals throughout the region. "We have not had a huge influx of patients, and we've had no staffing problems at any of our locations."

Linemen weren't so fortunate.

Jason Waller, a 30-year-old Progress Energy lineman called into Orange County from Inverness, said communication between crews and dispatchers was difficult because of jammed cell-phone lines.

Waller, who was helping three others install at least two new 85-foot galvanized utility poles near the University of Central Florida, said he thought there may be "several weeks of work" in the area.

Melvin Rhodes, an OUC line supervisor, was overseeing a crew trying to repair damaged power lines in the Starlight Ranch manufactured-home community off Pershing Avenue in southeast Orlando. But Saturday's thunderstorms, combined with downed trees and debris hanging on the wires, hampered repair efforts.

"We're trying to get as much on as quick as we can," he said. "We've got contractors coming in from all over town and out of state, as far away as Ohio."

Rhodes, a 35-year veteran, said many OUC customers might be without power until Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We're going to be working around the clock," he said. "I'd love to get these people back in power, and we've got a lot of people working as hard as they can to do that."

Brad Herala said his power came on about 1 p.m. Saturday at his home in Avalon Park, just up the road from an OUC generating plant. Grateful after a sticky 14 hours without electricity, he was happy to turn on the air-conditioning again.

"I went up and got some family members out of Oviedo because they didn't have any power," said Herala, 36, a manager with Hewitt Associates.

Repairs went slower in other parts of OUC's service area.

"It's just total disaster, trees everywhere. You can't drive down the street," Rhodes said.

Although Lalchandani of Orange County did not meet with Rhodes or Waller, they all shared one sentiment: It will take time before all the light switches work again.

"I think it will be several days," Lalchandani said. "I would not be surprised if it's a week."

David Damron, Melissa Harris, Ludmilla Lelis, Barry Flynn, Jim Leusner, Robin Shelton, Errin Haines and Anthony Collarossi contributed to this report. Dan Tracy can be reached at 407-420-5444 or dtracy@orlandosentinel.com.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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