80 percent of Highlands County still in the dark

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Bill Middlebrooks and his wife, Anna, feel lucky to be alive after riding out Hurricane Irma in their mobile home in Sebring.

"It was the biggest storm I have ever went through," said Mrs. Middlebrooks. "I'm just grateful to be here."

This isn't their first hurricane. They were around for Charley in 2004, too. Mrs. Middlebrooks said they were prepared this time. 

"We had bought lots of water, a lot of canned food, we knew we were going to be out at least 7-14 days, so, that's how we prepared for this one," she said.

It's that positive attitude that keeps their frustration at bay. Like so many around the state, the couple has been without power since Sunday morning.

"They have so many people without it, it's going to take them a while to get it back on," said Mrs. Middlebrooks. "It's not like it's two blocks. Then it would be frustrating."

"The real severe part of the eye wall basically traveled straight up U.S. 27 from the bottom of the county to the top over about a three-hour period," said Scott Dressel with the Highlands Co. Sheriff's Office.

More than 80 percent of Duke Energy customers in Highlands County are still without power. The company says it doesn't know the estimated restoration time because of all the infrastructure damage that still needs to be repaired.

"For perspective if you are a line crew and you come up to a fuse that needs to be fixed, that takes just a few moments," said Duke Energy spokesperson, Ana Gibbs. "But to reset an entire pole, that literally takes hours per pole. So when you have what you see here, more than a dozen in a row that have come down, that's why it's gonna take us so long to restore power."

The Highlands County Sheriff's Office says all three hospitals do have power, along with three of the 17 schools there.

Long lines at gas stations aren't necessarily a sign of a shortage.

"The sheriff's office leased some generators and actually had a couple that were given to us to use at no cost so we could take them around to these stations that had fuel and no way to pump it," said Dressel.

Back at the Middlebrooks home, they have enough food and water to sustain them for a bit. That's all they need.

"I mean, we're in good spirits. Pretty good," said Mr. Middlebrooks. We laugh about it. I mean what else can you do? Who are you going to yell at?"

The Middlebrooks said a recorded message from Duke Energy told them their electricity could be turned on by Sunday, but again, the company does not have an exact restoration time for the county.

More than 45,000 Duke Energy customers are still waiting for the power to be turned on in Highlands County.

Dressel said the biggest need in Highlands County - other than power - is ice.