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Flooded streets and ripped roofs can be seen above the Holiday Manor neighborhood in East Naples following Hurricane Irma. USA TODAY NETWORK

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A small army of Florida Power and Light employees has been working to restore electricity in the state since Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc Sunday, but customers on the west coast will have to wait longer than others — as late as Sept. 22.

Some 20,000 FPL workers have been laboring to turn the lights back on in the Sunshine State after the storm caused historic widespread damage to the state's power grid, said Rob Gould, FPL vice president and chief communications officer, during a news conference Tuesday.

“This is the first time that our entire 27,000-square-mile territory, 35 counties all in all, have been impacted by Hurricane Irma or any storm," Gould said.

"This has been a monumental effort that has begun, and it will be underway and continued," he said.

More: Hurricane Irma: Gas, groceries, restaurants that are re-opening

▪ Get complete coverage of Hurricane Irma at naplesnews.com/hurricane
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So far, the utility has seen about 5 million total customer outages, he said.

"That’s affected roughly 4.4 million customers,” Gould said.

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, FPL's website showed 156,010 of its 210,700 Collier County customers were still without power.

In Lee County, 154,680 of FPL's 259,900 had outages, according to the website.

Lee County Electric Cooperative, which serves communities from Everglades City to North Fort Myers, said Wednesday morning that 117,448 of its 214,848 customers still were without power.

In Everglades City, none of its customers had electricity. 

More: IRS grants relief to Hurricane Irma victims

To restore power, FPL split Florida into a western and eastern portion. The latter had "less damage in some respects than the western side" of Florida and is more of a "traditional restoration effort," Gould said.

While FPL hopes to have power back to all customers on the east coast by the end of the weekend, some customers on the west side could be without power until Sept. 22.

“We did expect to see more severe damage on the west coast, some areas that would require a rebuild, whereas the east coast is more of a traditional restoration effort," Gould said. "The one thing we are seeing throughout is lots of debris, lots of trees down.”

Both portions of the states might see delays in having power restored where "tornadic damage," severe flooding or "other pockets of severe damage" occurred, he said.

“We are out there 24/7," Gould said. "This will not be just a daylight operation. We will be restoring power day and night.”

In the past day, FPL was able to restore roughly 2.3 million outages, he said. 

"We’ve also restored 40 percent of the customers impacted by Irma in just one day," Gould said. "And to put that in perspective, at the same time where we find ourselves now with (Hurricane) Wilma in 2005, we were at 4 percent."

Wilma, a devastating storm in its own right, did not reach as many areas of the state as Irma and affected 21 of Florida's 67 counties, he said.

“Most of the outages we are seeing is a result of debris and vegetation that is blowing into our lines," Gould said. "We are definitely not seeing poles down like we anticipated. We were anticipating a significant number of poles down across our network.”

The poles that have toppled over are down "as a result of trees off of our right of way coming down on the lines and pulling the poles down" and not because of the wind itself, he said.

That means the utility will be able to restore power quicker, Gould said.

“What we do first is we get our generation facilities back online," he said. "We’ve had minimal impact on our generation facilities. We have certainly enough power to provide to our customers."

Next, FPL tends to the "critical infrastructure," including hospitals and 911 centers, Gould said.

“Then we go after the feeders that feed the most amount of customers along those lines, regardless of whether it’s a home or a business," he said. "And then we go into the neighborhoods; we bring back those customers as quickly as possible.”

Gould said there is no need to call FPL about outages.

 "The smart grid network that we have in place lets us know when a customer is out of power,” he said.

Gould asked for customers' patience and emphasized residents should be careful when moving about their neighborhoods, because downed power lines could cause injuries or even death.

“If you are not sure, walk away from it, because you could have a power line that is still energized,” he said.

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