SEBRING — Glades Electric Cooperative has about 95-98 percent of its customers without power since Hurricane Irma - 16,400 of 16,800, said Paul McGehee, director of Business Development.
When asked “How’s it going?” McGehee says, “It’s going as good as it can. We took quite an impact. We had more damage than (Hurricane Wilma).”
The company covers parts of four counties — Highlands, Glades, Hendry and Okeechobee — for mostly rural customers, as few as six per mile. Hurricane Irma essentially took out their entire system, he said.
With trees, poles and lines down, as well as roads washed out, Glades Electric spent Monday and most of Tuesday just clearing debris to get access. Safety first is the rule, he said.
He can’t promise any specific time for the system to come back up, he said.
“It’s basically a rebuild,” McGehee said.
Meanwhile, he wants residents — all residents — to report lines down when they see them and assume they are dangerous. Glades has crews coming from electric co-ops in the Florida Panhandle and Mississippi to help.
“Stay safe and be patient,” McGehee said. “We’re all in this together.”
As for other power customers, officials at the Highlands County Emergency Operations Center in Sebring reported that they don’t know exactly when power will be restored in the county. Duke Energy has sent crews to repair the local lines, while other crews are en route to fix transmission lines, said Gloria Rybinski, Highlands County public information officer. That involves more than 49,000 customers of an approximate 53,000 customer base — or 90 percent.
One of those customers, Sandy Larnard of Sebring, waited through lunch Tuesday near the back of a 100-person line at The Home Depot for the next shipment of generators.
Like many, she prepared, but is eagerly waiting for power to be restored.
She and her husband had stockpiled ice ahead of Hurricane Irma’s arrival, even in the freezer portion of her husband’s beer refrigerator. Larnard said she wouldn’t have any problem chilling food or dealing with the heat. She and her husband are accustomed to Florida weather. She’s retired from and her husband still works for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.
She said they saw plenty of generators for sale prior to the arrival of Irma, and like a lot of other people in Highlands County, they thought they’d have time to get one before she arrived.
“We’re very blessed,” Larnard said. “We don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. A lot of people dcon’t have that.”
She’s also fortunate enough to live in Sebring Hills, a subdivision behind the Lakeshore Mall — close enough to the shopping centers and home supply stores to get restocked.
“We’re praying constantly for everybody,” she added.