As Hurricane Matthew lashed across South Florida late Thursday and into Friday, more than 86,000 customers in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties were in the dark.
The majority of those affected lived in Palm Beach County, where 67,690 Florida Power & Light customers were without power as of 4:00 a.m. Friday.
In Broward County, 9,120 had lost power while another 9,460 were without electricity in Miami-Dade, the utility reported. All told, 86,270 FPL customers were without power in the three-county area Friday morning.
The numbers of customers without power kept rising Thursday and early Friday — from about 12,000 in the late afternoon among the three counties to more than 107,000 at 3 a.m. Friday. At the same time, thousands of customers had their power restored throughout the day.
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The power outages started early in the day, when the storm had barely hit Miami-Dade County.
Palmetto Bay Mayor Eugene Flinn and wife, author Alexandra Flinn, posted on Facebook in the morning that power had already gone out in the village.
“Power went out with the first slight gust,” he wrote. “Fortunately, I charged my iPad or how can I watch Designated Survivor, preempted by last night's storm coverage.”
Emergency crews in all three counties were on standby to restore power as soon as it was safe, FPL said. Crews will restore power as long as winds are less than 35 miles per hour. As of the 2 a.m. forecast from the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s winds were 130 mph. The Category 3 hurricane was located due east of Vero Beach, about 45 miles offshore.
Power line workers from across the country have gathered in different staging areas across the state.
Anne-Marie Olivieri, who runs a Facebook page called Linejunk to post news and issues related to utility workers, said thousands of bucket trucks are in Florida waiting to restore power. A video posted to her page Wednesday showed dozens of trucks in Lake City in northern Florida. Her husband, a lineman in Pennsylvania, was on his way Thursday to Georgia.
“It becomes organized chaos,” she said.
In Broward alone, 1,400 workers were deployed.
To strengthen the grid, FPL replaced wooden poles with concrete poles before the storm. Spokeswoman Juliet Roulhac estimated that two-thirds of the poles were replaced in Broward.
The company warned that 2.5 million customers in Central and North Florida could lose power as the Category 3 storm pummeled the Space Coast and parts north.
“Depending upon Matthew's ultimate path and intensity, damage to our electrical infrastructure will be extensive,” Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, said in a statement. “The impacts of this storm will far exceed the design standards of not just the FPL system, but much of the design standards of homes and buildings throughout the region.”
The company said that it is anticipating “a significant and challenging restoration effort along parts of Florida's east coast.”
Silagy said the company has lined up assistance from employees and workers from other utility companies and has “a workforce of more than 15,000 ready to respond.”
In preparation for the storm, FPL shut down its St. Lucie nuclear power plant, just southeast of Fort Pierce on Thursday morning. But with the storm mostly skipping past Miami-Dade County, the Turkey Point plant in Homestead kept operating at 100 percent.
“Our safety guidelines call for shutting down an hour before hurricane-force winds reach the site,” said FPL spokesman Peter Robbins. “Acting very conservatively, and very safely, we shut down Turkey Point long before that. When we concluded that hurricane-force winds were not going to reach Turkey Point at all, we kept it operating.”
Actually, only one of the two St. Lucie units had to be shut down. The other went down for refueling several days ago, and with the hurricane approaching, FPL didn’t turn it back on.
The St. Lucie plant, located on Hutchinson Island, will stay off-line until a detailed inspection can be made.
Miami Herald staff writers Amy Sherman, Douglas Hanks and Howard Cohen contributed to this report.