No AC! Millions in Florida swelter through power outages

People shop in a supermarket, one of the few open, with limited electricity three days after Hurricane Irma swept through the area on Wednesday in Naples, Florida. (AFP)
Updated 14 September 2017
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No AC! Millions in Florida swelter through power outages

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: In a state built on air conditioning, millions of Florida residents now want to know: When will the power come back on?
Hurricane Irma’s march across Florida and the Southeast triggered one of the bigger blackouts in US history, plunging as many as 13 million people into the dark as the storm dragged down power lines and blew out transformers. Gone were the climate-controlled bubbles people relied on in Florida’s sweltering heat and humidity.
In Hollywood, Florida, eight patients at a sweltering nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning, raising fears Wednesday about the safety of Florida’s 4 million senior citizens amid power outages that could last for days. Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said investigators believe the deaths at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills were heat-related, and added: “The building has been sealed off and we are conducting a criminal investigation.”
Meanwhile, millions who evacuated ahead of the storm are now returning to homes without electricity. They could face days or even weeks with little to ease the late-summer stickiness. By Wednesday afternoon, state emergency management officials estimate that one third — or 6.4 million — residents remained without power in the Sunshine state.
“Power, power, power,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said recently. “The biggest thing we’ve got to do for people is get their power back.”
The Irma blackout is still much smaller than a 2003 outage that put 50 million people in the dark. More than 50,000 utility workers — some from as far away as Canada and California — are responding to the crisis, according to the association of the nation’s investor-owned utilities.
“The industry’s Irma response is one of the largest and most complex power restoration efforts in US history,” said Tom Kuhn of the Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group that represents all US investor-owned electric companies. “Given the size and strength, infrastructure systems will need to be rebuilt completely in some parts of Florida.”
The state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, said Irma caused the most widespread damage in company history, affecting all 35 counties in its territory — most of the state’s Atlantic coast and the Gulf Coast south of Tampa.
The company on Tuesday said it expected to have the lights back on by the end of the weekend for the Atlantic coast. Customers in the hard-hit neighborhoods in southwest Florida, where damage was much more extensive, were expected to get power restored within 10 days.
While acknowledging the public’s frustration, utility officials said they are getting power back on faster than they did after Hurricane Wilma hit the state 12 years ago. The company said it had already restored service to nearly 1.8 million customers.
Any disaster that wipes out electrical service hits especially hard in the South, where tens of millions of Americans rely on the cocoon of comfort provided by air conditioning. Without it, many cities could barely exist, let alone prosper.
There were signs on social media that some people were growing angry and tired of waiting. Others steeled themselves for an extended period without electricity.
Standing in front of a produce cooler at a reopened Publix grocery store in Naples, Missy Sieber said the worst thing about not having electricity is not having air conditioning.
“It’s miserably hot,” she said. “I don’t mind standing in line here.”
There’s no immediate cool-off in sight. The forecast for the coming week in Naples and Miami, for instance, calls for highs in the upper 80s (lower 30s Celsius) and lows barely falling below 80 degrees (27 degrees Celsius). Humidity will hover above 70 percent.
At Century Village in Pembroke Pines, more than half of the residential buildings — 77 of 144 — were still without power Wednesday afternoon. Rescue crews from several area municipalities were going door to door in 94-degree (34 Celsius) heat to perform welfare checks, and a massive water, ice and meal distribution plan was already enacted.
Two generator incidents have occurred in Hernando County. On Monday, a home was destroyed when a generator caught on fire. On Wednesday a generator left running inside a garage killed one dog and seriously injured another from carbon monoxide poisoning.
In Georgia, more than 510,000 homes and businesses remained without power Wednesday. Georgia Power said 95 percent of its customers should have electricity restored by Sunday night, except for homes or businesses too damaged to be reconnected.
Irma followed Texas’ Hurricane Harvey, which created widespread outages. Some three weeks after Harvey, at least 10,700 customers in that state remained without power. Many of those were homes and businesses that will have to undergo repairs before they are ready to receive electricity again.
Back in Naples, Sieber and her husband and 9-year-old son have been using a generator to run a small air conditioner in a bedroom at night.
“It makes you count your blessings,” she said.


‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

Updated 12 min 57 sec ago
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‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

  • Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia join forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative"
  • It will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia have joined forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative” this year, a pre-clearance system that will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land.
Two flights carrying Hajj pilgrims were commissioned at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to mark the official launch, which was attended by officials from Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
According to Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office for Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mujahid Yusuf, who also launched the Makkah Road Initiative, pilgrims will no longer have to wait in long queues to finalize documentation such as visa stamps, customs, and health screenings.
“All these will be sorted out in KLIA, and when our (Malaysian) pilgrims arrive (in Madinah), they can just take the bus to the hotel. Their luggage will be managed by the Saudi authorities,” Dr. Yusuf added.
A world first, the initiative has been made possible by multi-agency collaboration within Saudi Arabia, as well as weeks of preparation by officials in the Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Makkah Road Initiative will cut time and entrance procedures for pilgrims from Malaysia and Indonesia to Saudi Arabia through a “unified electronic paths” and “pre-clearance procedures” before arrival at Madinah airport, according to officials.
The services provided under the initiative include issuing visas, customs and passport procedures, facilitating health requirements, baggage management, and housing arrangements in Makkah.
The initiative also involves checking off the pilgrims’ entry visas into the Kingdom at the airport when the flight departs. Travel arrangements will be “confirmed electronically”, including health requirements where pilgrims can skip the paper documents on vaccines at the airport in their own country.
Fingerprints and passports are to be taken and stamped “electronically” in their home country before departure. Pilgrims will fly from either the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, and will arrive at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz in Madinah.
The pilgrims will check out at the airport arrival hall “like a domestic flight” while their luggage will be sorted to their places of residence by the Ministry of Hajj.
With an increasing number of Muslim pilgrims to Makkah each year, the Saudi Arabian government has made serious efforts to streamline the process.
“We really appreciate this progress by the Kingdom,” said Zainol Rahim Zainuddin, Malaysian ambassador to the Kingdom, adding that the initiative showcased the close partnership between the governments of the Kingdom and Malaysia.
Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, had 221,000 of pilgrims arriving in Makkah last year. Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation, increased its number of pilgrims to 31,300 in 2017 from an initial projection of 30,200.
The Makkah Road Initiative is part of the National Transition Programs (2020). It aims to fulfil the Vision 2030 objective of having well-developed public services and infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.