Off the grid since Hurricane Ian, Wauchula to begin reconnecting Monday
Image via Florida Municipal Electric Association.

Wauchula FMEA crew
Most customers in Hardee County who depend on the Peace River Electric Cooperative for power should also see their lights turned on soon.

For most residents of Hardee County, things have been drenched and dark since Hurricane Ian struck.

The compact, inland area to the east of Florida’s Gulf Coast suffered heavy flooding when the near-Category 5 maelstrom slammed into the state Wednesday, and more than half the 6,349 utility customers there were without power five days later.

That includes all those in Wauchula, a city of fewer than 5,000 residents once known as the “cucumber capital of the world” for its dedication to growing the crop. The city remained partly underwater days after the storm came and went, forcing those living there to use boats to get around and help with recovery efforts.

Wauchula buys its power wholesale through Duke Energy, a North Carolina-headquartered company with 1.9 million Florida clients. Wauchula has 2,691 electricity customers. None was listed as having its power restored as of 9 a.m. Monday.

But that’s about to change, according to city spokesperson Katie Wheeler.

“Our county received significant flooding, and that really limits the access of where we can get and what we can repair,” she told Florida Politics.

“(Duke Energy’s) transmission lines had significant damage, so (we’ve had to) wait until those transmission lines are repaired to be able to start reenergizing our distribution system. They have restored them, and we are starting to get power back to our customers today.”

The Florida Municipal Electric Association expressed similar optimism Sunday,  announcing on Twitter that crews were working “around the clock in Wauchula.”

“Power for (a) majority of customers will come back online as soon as Duke energizes its transmission line that feeds into the city,” the group said on Twitter.

Countywide, 52% of customers in Hardee await reconnections, down from more than 92% with outages in the hours after Ian hit.

The county receives its power from four sources: Florida Power & Light (FPL), which has reconnected its 30 customers in Hardee; Duke Energy, whose 15 direct customers all had their lights on Monday; the city of Wauchula; and the Peace River Electric Cooperative.

As its name suggests, the Peace River Electric Cooperative, or PRECO for short, services the Southwest Florida counties through which its 106-mile namesake traverses, including Polk, Hardee, DeSoto and Charlotte. The company also provides power to Brevard, Highlands, Indian River, Manatee, Osceola, Polk and Sarasota counties.

As of Monday morning, 39.5% of PRECO’s 9,505 customers in Hardee — the company’s second-largest client — and nearly 39% of its 1,029 customers in DeSoto were still powerless, according to PRECO’s outages map.

The company said conditions should improve markedly in Hardee by the end of the day.

“Restoration in portions of Hardee County not affected by flooding will be substantially completed today,” the company said in a statement.

Hurricane Ian made landfall Wednesday afternoon near Fort Myers at near-Category 5 strength, bringing torrential rain, tornadoes and massive storm surges that flooded a large swath of the Gulf Shore.

The storm is among the deadliest and costliest to ever hit the state. At least 85 people have been confirmed dead, and the damage to properties and public infrastructure in Florida is estimated to be “well over $100 billion,” according to disaster modeling firm Karen Clark & Co.

In a 9 a.m. tally of outages Monday, the Public Service Commission said more than 613,000 customers statewide were without power. Over the preceding three hours, FPL, Duke Energy, Tampa Electric, Florida Public Utilities and various cooperatives restored power for more than 8,000.

“People are working really hard to get services back online,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Saturday press conference in Wauchula. “We’ve got people down here in Hardee County from all over the state helping out. … As much as you hate to see this and go through it, people do come together and they step up, and they’ve been doing that here in a big, big way.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Tom

    October 3, 2022 at 12:48 pm

    Tropical windcane 3 whirlwind

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