Winds from Hurricane Idalia whipped up to 90 miles per hour Wednesday, dumping rain and throwing seawater into flooded communities. As Hurricane Idalia continued inland, it left behind commercial power outages, extensive flooding and significant structural damage throughout the area. Several major bridges in Florida were inaccessible as the storm moved across a 250-mile swatch across the Southeast into coastal Georgia and the Carolinas.
Idalia slammed Florida’s Big Bend area – between the panhandle and peninsula – near Keaton Beach Wednesday morning at a dangerous Category 3 strength. That part of the Gulf Coast hasn’t seen such deadly storm surge and wind gust for at least 125 years, according to CNN.
More than 298,628 homes, businesses and other power customers in Florida and about 152,730 in Georgia had no electricity around 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday, according to PowerOutage.com.
Carriers had staged emergency response and network recovery equipment in strategic locations for quick deployment following the storm. That included staging dedicated FirstNet equipment for use by public safety agencies on FirstNet as needed, according to AT&T.
Telecoms topped off generators with fuel and tested high-capacity batteries at cell sites. T-Mobile had quick-deploy and portable satellites, microwave solutions and generators ready for quick restoration.
Verizon had sites out of service in the heaviest hit areas in the Big Bend. “Sites remaining in service running on generator power allow residents and first responders who remain there to continue to make phone calls/receive phone calls and send/receive texts,” said the carrier. Once the storm subsides and it is safe, Verizon said crews would begin site assessments to prioritize repairs, move mobile assets into place as needed, and activate a massive refueling operation to keep sites running until commercial power is restored.
Forty-four Florida counties were included in the FCC’s first Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) report for Idalia on Wednesday. Out of a total of 6,313 cell sites for the impacted areas, 76 were not working. Fifty-five had no power, 12 had data transport issues and three were damaged. An additional 101 cell sites were operating on back-up power.
Lake County had the most cell sites not working – 10 out of 223. Marion County had the second-most cell site outages – nine out of 263. Taylor County had seven out of 37 cell sites out.
Dixie County 911 calls were being rerouted. So too, were calls for the Gilchrist Sheriff’s Office.
Cable and wireline companies reported 58,941 subscribers out of service in the disaster area for Hurricane Idalia. This includes the loss of telephone, television, and/or internet services.
No TV stations reported being out of service. Two FMs – WTSM and WXJX were off the air, as was WORL-AM.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief