A group of senior women sat around tables on the lanai picking at their food and sipping coffee. Everything looks as if it were a typical day but in the dark house behind them, things were far from normal – until later that afternoon.
Tucked away in a Palma Sola neighborhood, 16 seniors and 10 staff members spend their days at a quiet assisted living facility. But since Monday, they had been living in the dark.
Like thousands of Florida Power & Light customers in Manatee County, Sunny Bower Assisted Living and Senior Day Services, 1604 71st St. NW, lost power when Hurricane Irma struck Florida.
Power to the facility was restored around 3 p.m. Thursday, a couple hours after Bradenton.com posted a story about the center’s predicament, said Maria Grumley, facility administrator.
“It’s wonderful. The facility is cool and bright and everyone is very happy to be at work now,” Grumley said after the power kicked back on.
She said the residents, who spent most of their time outside while the power was out, were in “good spirits” and “happy” to come inside again.
Other facilities are still waiting. Langdon Hall, an assisted and independent living facility in Bradenton, still had no power as of 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Before the storm, Sunny Bower facility administrators Chris and Maria Grumley and employees helped move the 16 full-time residents into another building that will open as an assisted living facility on Saturday. That building, however, lost power around 1:30 a.m. Monday, Maria said.
They brought the residents back to Sunny Bower later that day to get them into a familiar environment since they were without power anyway. The Grumleys, employees and residents hoped the power would soon be restored.
At 9 a.m. Thursday, the facility was still in the dark. A small camping lamp on the counter was the only light in the kitchen.
Residents ate breakfast, which had to be prepared on a small propane-powered stove outside and served on paper plates in the large screened-in lanai looking out at the street. A generator humming outside was powering a small lamp and a television in the living room of the home turned assisted living facility.
During breakfast, the generator ran out of gas and the house fell nearly silent.
Shelia Overcash, a resident at Sunny Bower, said all the homes around them had electricity while they’re were still sitting in the dark and the heat Thursday morning. She called the situation a “mess.”
“There are people here that are over 100 years old on oxygen and I just think that people should know about that,” Overcash said.
The Grumleys said it was not a life-or-death situation that the power come back. One resident who requires breathing treatments gets them by hooking up his machine to the generator and an extension cord to reach inside. They said the residents were cared for, but until 3 p.m. Thursday, there was no air conditioning to keep them comfortable.
“Lucky for us, it’s not life-threatening, just inconvenient,” Maria Grumley said.
Donations of water and ice came from the community, and employees brought food they cooked at their homes to feed the residents while the facility was without power.
“We called FPL, we tried tracking trucks down, we had no luck,” Lourdes Melndez, an employee at Sunny Bower, said before power was restored. “It’s very hot in here. It’s awful, it really is.”
The Grumleys were more upset they seemed to be the only ones in the area without power and that their facility isn’t on a priority list for FPL.
“We just assumed we would be,” Maria Grumley said.
In an email, an FPL spokesman said, “Each year FPL works in partnership with local officials in each of the 35 communities that we serve. Working together we identify top critical facilities that require priority restoration. Each community is different and we work to individualize priorities like hospitals, police and fire stations, communication facilities, water treatment plants and transportation providers. However, if you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911 or seek medical assistance.”
“I do think from this now, especially with what’s happened down in Hollywood, there’s going to be more checks and balances,” Chris Grumley said.
In Hollywood, eight seniors died after their nursing home was without power and air conditioning following Irma.
The Grumleys said they called FPL six or seven times to address the issue. Sometimes they got an automated answer. But after getting in touch with the Public Safety Department, the Grumleys said they got a promise from FPL that power would be restored by 8 p.m. Thursday.
In an 11:30 a.m. update from FPL, a spokesman said that sometimes neighbors can be served by different power lines, so while one house may have power, the house next door may not.
“We’re entering the stage of this restoration where we have restored many of the big blocks of customers and we’re now going into neighborhoods and in some cases going house by house. The last part of the restoration is the hardest part. It’s very manual, it’s very time consuming so you may not see the number of outages drop as quickly as we’ve seen in these first three days,” the spokesman said.