11 A.M. UPDATE
TECO Peoples Gas crews and other personnel since Saturday night have worked to restore customers throughout Fort Myers and Naples.
Crews visited more than 40 percent of the commercial and residential customers, including restoring service to more than 600 affected by the loss of natural gas service after a major line break Thursday afternoon, TECO officials reported.
To assist in restoration efforts, the company is encouraging customers to have someone available at their home or business to allow crews to enter and take the necessary steps to begin the restoration process. If customers are not present, a door hanger will be left behind asking them to call. Crews will be working throughout all affected areas Sunday, with a strong focus in the Fort Myers area from Gladiolis Boulevard south to Williams Road on both sides of Interstate 75, and in the Naples area of Collier County south of Vanderbilt Beach Road to Rattlesnake Hammock Road, TECO officials said in a statement released earlier Sunday.
TECO stressed the importance of someone being present to allow crews to enter the home or business to restore service.
Here are details of three key steps in the restoration sequence.
First, each customer’s gas service is shut off and locked down (physically turned off and locked) by a representative of Peoples Gas as a safety precaution and as required by federal and state regulations. Then, gas mains will be re-pressurized to the appropriate level and inspected.
Next, Peoples Gas crews will visit each customer premise and ensure natural gas service is restored, pilot lights are re-lit and safety checks are completed by a representative of Peoples Gas. Peoples Gas is working to restore all customers as quickly as possible.
Customers should not turn off their gas supply at the main meter. Only emergency personnel or utility personnel should turn the valve on or off. A customer may turn off the gas for individual appliances at the appliance valve near each unit but it is not necessary.
Peoples Gas is committed to keeping customers updated, so stay tuned to peoplesgas.com for the latest available information.
- Submitted by TECO spokesman Rick Morera
UPDATE 9:25 P.M. SATURDAY
A hostess at the Watermark Grille in North Naples stood on U.S. 41 North on Saturday night proudly holding a sign of the times: “Open. Got Gas!”
Restaurants in Southwest Florida sidelined by Thursday’s gas line rupture in Fort Myers are beginning to fire up their kitchens as service is slowly being restored to area customers.
As of 4:30 p.m. Saturday, officials from TECO Peoples Gas reported they visited more than 40 percent of customers affected by the gas outage that left 7,200 residential and commercial customers in Collier and Lee Counties scrambling for the past several days. Approximately 500 customers have had their service restored, according to TECO officials.
Like many restaurant owners, Neim Malo, co-owner of the Watermark Grille, said he and his staff were prepared for another night of limited menu service using propane-powered grills, but then relief came Saturday afternoon.
“We tested the stove around 4 p.m. and it worked,” Malo said, beaming as customers streamed into his restaurant.
For Phil McCabe, owner of the Inn on Fifth and McCabe’s Irish Pub and Grill on Fifth Avenue South in Naples, the feeling is much different. His patience is starting to resemble Day 3 without gas.
“It’s been very difficult to deliver on our services,” said McCabe, who has been shuttling his hotel guests over to his home on Gulf Shore Boulevard for hot showers. “Customers have been patient. They’re laughing it off but that wears thin. After 24 hours, 48 hours … now after 72 hours it gets difficult.”
TECO officials didn’t have a time table to when gas would be restored in the Fifth Avenue South dining district.
Rick Morera, a spokesperson for TECO, said crews focused Saturday on turning off, locking and tagging lines at commercial and residential properties along U.S. 41 North between Vanderbilt Beach Road and Pine Ridge Road, then working their way south and east to the Naples beach and downtown areas.
OTHER STORIES ABOUT THE GAS OUTAGE:
Cafe Luna, also on 5th Avenue South, served a modified menu for the second straight night and is seeing a modified patrons list as a result.
“We’ve had a lot of people call and cancel reservations,” said manager Alesia Hurskaya. “It’s about 30 percent of our business. But we didn’t have a choice. It’s not our fault.”
Hurskaya said the worst part is not being able to serve pizza. She said some customers have expressed frustrations but generally people are being understanding.
McCabe said despite staff doubling their efforts to accommodate guests, people expect a high level of service. When basic amenities, such as hot water and full menus aren’t provided, he says he has to give guests credits and other concessions for being inconvenienced. And that ultimately costs him money.
“Is it damaging revenues? Absolutely,” McCabe said.
The word has been spreading too, according to McCabe, and that is keeping hotel guests and restaurant patrons away.
“The damages are there and they will get worse as the hours and days go by,” McCabe said. “We won’t be able to put a number on it until it’s all over.”
McCabe said that in addition to losing money, he is frustrated by a lack of communication from TECO Peoples Gas.
“TECO is grossly inept,” McCabe says. “None of us know what’s going on. We don’t have one person to turn to that’s in charge. They’re silent.”
TECO has been sending the media updates four times a day.
Restaurants at Coconut Point in Estero had reason to praise TECO’s response -- with gas service restored on Saturday.
Jesse Nadell, manager at Ted’s Montana Grill, said the gas was turned back on around 5 p.m.
“We tried to keep everybody happy,” Nadell said about cooking for two days on a catering grill, offering a limited menu and having to reduce the seating capacity in the restaurant.
“We did the best we could with what we had,” Nadell said.
He estimates that this restaurant served half the dinners on Friday that they would typically serve on a Friday night.
Over at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, guests may not have hot water, but they have beer, sunshine and good company.
“We’ll survive,” said Ed Zane, who is visiting from Colorado for the weekend. “Worse things can happen; it’s disappointing but the weather’s great and we’re having a good time.”
Jason Parsons, general manager of the hotel, is grateful that his guests are making the best of the situation.
“We were sold out before the weekend started, and are still sold out,” Parsons said.
According to Parsons, all events held at the hotel will still have food; it’ll just be grilled. He says they will also have desserts, as the pastry area runs on electric.
TECO officials report using over 200 personnel, comprised of TECO workers from other offices in Florida, contractors and workers from other utilities for a manpower surge to restore gas service to the 6,000 residential customers and 1,200 commercial customers in Southwest Florida. With hospitals, nursing homes and other critical care facilities being top priority. Morera says the second step will be restoring gas to commercial customers, followed by residential customers.
“It’s a tedious and time-consuming process,” Morera said about TECO crews having to visit every single customer and locking and tagging each site before re-pressurizing the lines. “Then we have to physically return to each home and turn them back on.”
Morera says that he expects full service to be restored to all 7,200 TECO customers in the area within a week.