For more than a week, Jennifer Vergara, a single mother living in Allapattah, begged Florida Power & Light to restore power to her house. "We've got air conditioners in our windows, so they couldn't be opened," says Vergara, who works at a Denny's on Biscayne Boulevard. "It was so hot in the house that my family had to sleep outside on our patio in chairs."
According to Vergara, the power failed in her neighborhood on NW 34th Street at 8 p.m. Thursday, September 7, two days before Hurricane Irma even made landfall in Miami. Many of her friends and relatives in other low-income communities, such as Little Haiti, Overtown, and Opa-locka, had the same problem. "We were forced to prepare for the storm in the dark with no A/C," she says. "Every time I called FPL, they said, 'Oh, we're trying to get it back,' but I only just got my power last night, ten days later."
Meanwhile, other residents in Miami haven't been as lucky. As of 1:51 p.m. this afternoon, FPL's Power Tracker map indicated that 38,780 customers — about 4 percent of all households — in Miami-Dade are still without electricity even though the company had released a tweet earlier promising full power restoration to all east coast customers by the end of this past weekend.
This morning, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Xavier Suarez took matters into his own hands by soliciting his followers on Twitter to send locations of outages directly to his email. In response, Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner reported that 33 percent of all households in her city were without power.
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Despite slow improvements, residents across South Florida are furious about FPL's slow response to the storm, especially because the company hiked rates in 2006 to pay for upgrades to its power system. FPL claimed to have invested $3 billion in "a stronger, smarter, and more storm-resilient energy grid," but many customers are now saying they've seen little to substantiate the claim in the recovery after Irma. They want FPL to explain exactly what improvements were made using money that residents had no choice but to pay.
In most natural disasters, low-income communities are among the most vulnerable to power outages. "It's always the poor areas — like us, common folk — that have no power," Vergara says as she prepares for her afternoon shift at Denny's. "I couldn't work when the power was out because I had to stay at home and take care of my family. Today is my first day back."