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After the Tallahassee power grid exploded, there was an overloaded outage map around the clock

Friday morning's tornadoes and strong winds wreaked havoc in Tallahassee, but line crews got to work almost immediately after the storm subsided.

On Sunday, for example, a utility pole popped out as easily as a toothpick, its dirt-caked underside waving in the air within seconds of the excavator derrick truck pulling on it. Minutes later, hundreds more pounds of wood were rolled back to replace it.

Mike Crow, assistant general manager of energy for the city of Tallahassee, was monitoring progress that morning. He said the biggest challenge in repairing the power grid was navigating the debris-strewn terrain. It's difficult, he said, to even get an estimate of what workers will need to begin a repair.

“This is something we haven’t seen at this level in the past,” Crow said. The damage around the city reminded him of the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael in 2018 in rural counties west of Tallahassee. “This essentially looks like Hurricane Michael, but in an urban environment.”

And there is a lot of work.

According to a city outage map, more than 41,000 households were still without power as of 2:30 p.m. However, the Public Service Commission put the city of Tallahassee's population at fewer than 29,000 in an 11:55 a.m. report.

The teams' goal is to restore 90% of power to customers by Sunday evening. But Crow wasn't sure when full restoration would occur.

“A full restoration means, from a power perspective, we are fully restored to every customer who can receive power,” Crow said, swatting away a swarm of mosquitoes.

“We have a number of homes and businesses whose own infrastructure is significantly damaged and will not be able to receive power until they complete the repairs on their end. But as soon as they do the repairs, we will come to the spot straight away.”

City of Tallahassee Assistant General Manager for Power Mike Crow points out a damaged transformer on Sunday morning, May 12, 2024.

City of Tallahassee Assistant General Manager for Power Mike Crow points out a damaged transformer on Sunday morning, May 12, 2024.

He stood near the entrance to Florida A&M University, surrounded by fallen poles and pine trees. On this one-kilometer stretch of South Adams Street, workers had confirmed that 23 posts were broken. There were even more on intersecting streets.

“In order to get power to this community, we need to get this mainline back in service, then we can start working on the secondary roads,” Crow said. “As far as our recovery efforts go, they will continue. We are in a 24/7 posture and will remain so.”

The city has identified more than 150 damaged transformers. There are also 337 confirmed broken masts across the network, but that number is expected to exceed 500.

More than 500 workers were working on repairs in the city, most of them relief workers from other communities who headed to Tallahassee within hours of the storm, Crow said.

“We are fully prepared,” he said of the reinforcements, which have virtually quadrupled the workforce. “We have a lot of material on hand. From a material perspective, we have also reached out to other mutual aid partners.”

City official addresses frustration of powerless residents and outage map delays

Many are taking to social media to express how long it is taking them to regain their strength.

“Nothing makes me angrier than when the house next door, where no one lives, has electricity and I don’t. “It’s been 2 days now,” a poster on Reddit said.

Crow said to anyone who felt forgotten, “I completely understand, but I can assure you that you are not.”

“You couldn’t drive far without seeing one of our trucks actively working, and we’ll be here until the end,” he said. “That’s why I encourage you to continue to call our Customer Ops Center at 850-891-4968 or 711 (TDD).”

Some online also noted the declining numbers on Tallahassee's outage map. Crow explained that the high influx of reports meant the map was taking longer to catch up. And due to the destruction, the city had some problems with its communications equipment.

“It took a few hours of work to actually clean this up and these people work hard day and night to do that,” Crow said. “So the outage map will catch up, but it’s lagging behind.”

More than a dozen power restoration trucks rumbled into view, their lifted buckets and workers silhouetted in front of the Florida Capitol further north.

“Come by here tomorrow and it’s going to look a lot different,” Crow said. “It’s amazing that it took years to build this infrastructure and we will rebuild it in a day.”

But the solution won't be available to everyone today.

“We’re entering the third day,” he said. “I understand. I understand the frustration of some, but I want you to see that we are actively working and also see how many resources we have.”

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This reporting content is supported through a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA TODAY Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule can be reached at DSoule@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Tallahassee Utilities shares power restoration and outage map updates

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