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Rural communities across Florida are navigating blanket power outages after Hurricane Ian

 Duke Energy linemen restore power in Sebring
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Duke Energy linemen restore power in Sebring on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, working north from Lakeshore Mall on US 27.

Rural areas — including Highlands, DeSoto and Hardee counties — have been hit especially hard, with nearly 100% of customers losing power.

Rural, inland areas of Florida are still feeling the affects of Hurricane Ian. That includes Highlands County, where some residents compared Ian to other devastating storms.

On Friday, the number of homes without electricity across the state dipped below 2 million for the first time since Hurricane Ian decimated some Florida counties.

RELATED: How to track power outages across Florida

But as most Florida counties work to restore power, rural communities remain in the dark.

Almost 100% of customers were without power in Highlands, DeSoto and Hardee counties, and nearly all of the residents in Highlands County were off the grid for at least 24 hours.

By Saturday morning, that number was down to about 60% in Highlands county but remained higher in DeSoto and Hardee counties.

 Ruth Anne Lawson, 35, and her mother, Betty Schwalenberg, stand outside of their Sebring home
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Ruth Anne Lawson, 35, and her mother, Betty Schwalenberg, stand outside of their Sebring home that stood through the storm on Sept. 30, 2022. In 2004, Hurricane Jean collapsed their house in Sun 'N Lake.

Ruth Anne Lawson says her power kicked off as Ian approached Sebring, where she lives with her mother.

“Once the power went out and it was pitch black and those winds were just howling and howling … We couldn’t tell if it was a tornado," Lawson said. "We couldn’t tell if it was hailing or which way the wind was blowing. We were just sitting there and hoping the house would hold up.”

Lawson's mother, Betty Schwalenberg, says enduring the storm in darkness was scarier than Jean, which collapsed her home in 2004.

“I thought Jean was really bad at the time," Schwalenberg. "And I thought, well, you can’t get worse than this. But it was worse. I mean, not being able to see and only being able to hear.”

They've been told power will be restored in the coming days. Until then, a neighbor's generator is keeping the refrigerator running.

  Bharti Patel, 65, and her husband Vinod, 72, stand outside the Safari Inn
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
Bharti Patel, 65, and her husband Vinod, 72, stand outside the Safari Inn on US 27 onlooking as Duke Energy linemen restore power to their community in Sebring.

Bharti Patel stood outside her Sebring home on Friday night as Duke Energy linemen worked to restore power to residents.

“There are about five or six trucks and I would probably say about 20 people," Patel said. "They are fixing the poles that were I think bent because of the wind. Power companies and other companies are here fixing the light poles."

Patel says she's grateful her power could be restored after just one day. She says her neighbors may not be so lucky.

A damaged power line on US 27, southbound for Sebring.
Gabriella Paul
/
WUSF Public Media
A damaged power line on US 27, southbound for Sebring on Sept. 30, 2022.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.