Shortly after Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sunday morning, millions of power outages were already reported. The historic storm brought powerful winds and strong rains to the Sunshine State on Sunday, and it was clear that damage would range from downed power lines to flooded streets and damaged buildings. As of Sunday morning, more than a million homes and businesses were affected by power outages caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Irma first struck the Florida Keys off the United States' southern-most coast. As a Category 4 storm, Irma brought 130 mph winds along with heavy rain and intense storm surges, according to NBC News. Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Sunday morning about the "life-threatening storm surge" and shared updates from the National Weather Service about tornado warnings popping up across the state.
Given the conditions, power outages were expected throughout Florida. Irma's high winds were likely to knock down trees and send debris everywhere, making power lines susceptible to damage. According to The New York Times, Florida Power and Light Co. (FPL) expected power outages to affect as many as 9 million people. By 10 a.m. Sunday, more than 1 million homes and businesses had already lost power, FPL told south Florida's Sun Sentinel.
FPL's interative Power Tracker Map showed the concentration of power outages across Florida on Sunday. Customers throughout south Florida and up the state's eastern coast appeared most affected by the loss of power. According to the map, more than 650,000 customers in Miami-Dade County, more than 418,000 customers in Broward County, and more than 177,000 customers in Palm Beach County had lost power. Outages further north and west were not as widespread, although conditions were ripe for outages to increase as the storm moved in that direction.
Downed power lines don't just pose an inconvenience to residents and businesses without electricity — they also pose a serious threat to public safety. FPL repeatedly warned Floridians on Sunday not to venture into flooded waters. Downed power lines could be resting beneath the surface of the water, creating a risk of dangerous electrocution.
A 25-year-old man died from electrocution last month in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. According to USA Today, Andrew Pasek's mother wanted to raise awareness of the dangers of floodwaters after her son fatally waded through the Houston-area floodwaters to check on his sister's cat. Houston's historic flooding caused many Texans to traverse submerged streets, and floodwaters had already started to accumulate in Florida on Sunday as Irma moved through.
As the number of power outages continued to climb, utility company teams prepared to respond. FPL promised to dedicate its entire team of nearly 17,000 employees to restoring power. Photos of power company trucks lined up at the ready circulated online on Sunday, offering a glimmer of hope to Floridians waiting for relief from Irma.
Returning power won't be the only challenge after Hurricane Irma's fierce conditions subside. Reports coming out of Florida throughout the day on Sunday showed flooding and scattered debris in cities like Key West and Miami. It's unclear how much damage Irma will have done to Florida by the time the storm falls apart, but the damage sustained by island nations in the Caribbean suggested that Irma's wrath could be historic. According to the BBC, Caribbean nations like Cuba and the Bahamas suffered an estimated $10 billion in damage. Barbuda, a small island near Antigua, saw 95 percent of its buildings destroyed after Hurricane Irma passed through.
You may not be able to bring power back to Florida homes and businesses, but there are ways to help. Dozens of organizations are sending donations, volunteers, and resources to Florida as the Hurricane Irma response begins. Find an organization or cause that matters to you and give back to the Hurricane Irma relief efforts.