“I would caution people to be very patient here,” said Tom Bossert, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and counterterrorism. “We could have power down in homes for the coming weeks. Weeks.”
Bossert said the federal government is working with electric companies to help remove debris and clear roads as part of what he called “the largest ever mobilization of line-restoration workers in this country.”
“We all have a joint role in this,” he told reporters at a White House briefing. “We will have line-restoration workers from every company in this country, from states all over the country, but also from Canada, coming to Florida to help restore the lines.”
But Bossert said it will take time to restore plant and then subplants, lines and then houses on each road. “You can't hook up each house until the homeowner makes sure that it’s safe,” he said. “You don't want to burn the house down with flood damage and corroded lines and so forth.”
Statewide, more than 5 million homes or businesses are without power, Bossert said. More than half of Floridians are impacted by the outages. But Bossert said hospitals and nursing homes, among others, have emergency generators.
Bossert also estimated that it would take “weeks” for the public to be able to return the Florida Keys, which he said took the biggest brunt of the storm.
“The Keys are going to take awhile,” he said. “We have not assessed the structural integrity of the bridges there. There’s some early reason to believe some of the drawbridges that were up may or may not have been bent. Restoring that is going to take some time.”
As many as 10,000 of the island’s 80,000 residents may require evacuation, according to the Department of Defense.
“The people who chose to stay, they had every warning to leave. We hope they took that warning,” Bossert said. “Those who didn’t we are going to get back down there when we can.’
Bossert said officials took several flights over the Keys on Monday to try to assess the situation. Irma’s eye was thought to have passed over Cudjoe Key, which is about 20 miles east of Key West.
Bossert said the federal government’s top priority is still “life-saving, life-sustaining” particularly in the Keys and Jacksonville, which is experiencing some of the worst flooding in a century.