TAMPA, Fla. — The homecoming was a relief, at first: Across much of Florida, evacuees emerged from temporary shelters on Monday to find that Hurricane Irma had spared most houses and lives.
It had less mercy on the power grid.
Floridians were beginning to discover that home without electricity was not like home at all, a state that might last for weeks. In Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa and elsewhere, far more houses were dark than not, while some elderly and sick people were marooned in hospitals and nursing homes where reliable power was hard to come by.
Air conditioning, almost as essential as air in sticky, subtropical Florida, was mourned from the Keys to the Panhandle. A mass extinction of cellphone batteries drove people to their cars to charge up, their need for communication and news eclipsing their worries about conserving scarce gasoline.
Whatever people could salvage from the fridge became breakfast, lunch and dinner, cooked over gas or propane stoves, and a strip-mall Chinese place frying egg rolls in the sweaty dark in Hollywood, Fla., earned the eternal gratitude of its patrons. Most of the few businesses that were open were taking only cash. As registers froze, calculators totted up the change.
About 65 percent of the state had no power on Monday, and nearly a million customers had lost it in Georgia and South Carolina. The storm was still chewing on power lines across north Florida as repair crews deployed in the south on Monday.
“It’s going to take us a long time to get power back,” Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference on Monday, asking for patience.
Monday morning found the Berez family sheltering from Irma’s aftermath in a white van parked outside a CVS store in West Kendall, savoring the vehicle’s air conditioning and the free wifi they had picked up from a nearby Starbucks. Home had been more of a campground for 24 hours, and it was not going well.
“We can’t sleep,” said Isabel Berez, 49, lamenting the heat.
“I need to talk to my mama, my brother,” said her husband, Enrique Berez, 54, thumbing his iPhone screen.
“Horrible,” summarized their 9-year-old daughter, Isabella.
“It’s so hard to see at night,” she said, clutching a Barbie doll dressed in sparkly blue. “And I’m afraid of the dark.”
Florida Power & Light saw more than five million outages during the storm, including for some customers who lost power more than once. Priority for restoring power was going to vital facilities like hospitals, fire houses, police stations and shelters, followed by major commercial streets.
The company said it was not yet possible to tell individual customers when their service would be restored.
“We know how uncomfortable it is to be out of power,” said Eric Silagy, the company’s chief executive, at a news conference. “We get it. We have families here as well.”
The most serious consequences appeared to be unfolding at hospitals and nursing homes. As of Monday evening, 54 hospitals were operating on backup generators, according to data reported to the Florida Hospital Association.
Some nursing homes in Florida reported they had been running on generators for more than a day, some going without air conditioning, others without power altogether as generators failed. Some of the state’s assisted living facilities, which also house people who rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment, had no backup generators and reported being completely without power on Monday.
Gail’s Assisted Living Facility in Tampa had been without power for nearly a day and had no backup generator, Gail Coleman, who runs the facility, said on Monday afternoon. One of her eight residents requires breathing treatments, and most have dementia.
“I don’t think they really know what’s going on,” she said. But most were seniors, and she feared for their safety in the unrelenting heat. “I just want them to get it turned back on. It’s frustrating.”
The state requires nursing homes to have plans to maintain power and to evacuate when necessary in emergencies, but some experts said the state had done little to enforce the rules or penalize nursing homes that did not follow their emergency plans in previous years.
For Monika and Vernon Maitland, of Cape Coral, Fla., Irma delivered more than an inconvenience. Mr. Maitland, 91, suffered a stroke last year that paralyzed half of his body, and Ms. Maitland, 70, worried he would develop painful bed sores without air conditioning to cool him down. She would have to try to keep him in a chair.
Florida was also feeling the loss of power on the road, where many traffic signals were out, turning every intersection into a four-way muddle. Drivers edged guardedly into multilane intersections with no guidance on when to go.
At a Mobil gas station off the turnpike in Palm City, the clerk pressed a calculator into service after the outage knocked out his cash register. A search and rescue team heading to the Keys was waiting for the bathroom, each person at the front of the line cracking the door open with a foot so the person inside was not forced to use the toilet in total darkness.
Inside their paralyzed coolers, the bottled drinks were sweating, too.
On one stretch of South Dixie Highway in Miami on Monday afternoon, the only business open was the Pinecrest Bakery, one of its boarded-up windows spray-painted with the word “Open.”
Anyone looking for coffee in the long line outside was to be disappointed. Without power, they could not brew any. But the gas stove was turning out croquetas, empanadas and pastries.
“Well, at least people can eat,” said Magda Jubis, a retired artist from El Salvador. “I come here every day, but the whole world is turned upside down.”
North of downtown Tampa, in Tampa Heights, power lines had become slings for broken palms and oaks. Twenty minutes northwest, John Felts, 69, and his wife, Joyce, were checking out of the Residence Inn, where they had lost power around midnight. Now the sun was coming out, so it was time to go home to Fort Myers.
“My wife can’t stand the heat,” Mr. Felts said.
They were hoping to buy a generator as soon as they could. If that did not work, they would go right back to a hotel with power. Assuming there was one.
In Boynton Beach, Harry Woodworth was the owner of two generators and the envy of other Floridians. One generator ran the refrigerator and the entertainment system, including a wide-screen TV, and the other powered the entire house. (It was so loud, he said, that he planned to turn it off at night for the neighbors’ sake.) In his driveway sat an air-conditioned camper, where his family could sleep and eat.
But most of the powerless, lacking backup equipment, could turn only to philosophy.
Enrique Lopez, 43, had evacuated their house in Palmetto Bay before the storm. Expecting to return to a home flooded by a storm surge, they were relieved to find it intact.
“If loss of power is the price we have to pay for a roof over our heads,” he said, “I’ll gladly pay it.”
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