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Hot, sweaty and still powerless, Tampa Bay leans on each other

The power trucks massed in the morning.

They rolled out into quiet streets across Tampa Bay, where residents shared extension cords and bags of ice and precious air-conditioned real estate. When they had nothing else to give, people offered patience.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

Two days after Hurricane Irma robbed much of the bay area of power, people here still gasped in cold showers and stumbled to their toilets holding phone flashlights. They dumped molding cheese from lukewarm refrigerators, filled climate-controlled movie theaters and fanned themselves on front porches. They swarmed drive-throughs in search of warm cheeseburgers.

Counting their blessings that the storm hadn't been worse, they let slip to each other the truth:

Irma's aftermath has been a real pain.

"We keep sweating," said Angel Hurt of North 37th Street in Tampa. "Everything is wet."

Stocking up on potato chips and deodorant, Hurt said she's heard her power should be back Sunday or Monday. She thanks the Lord she's still here, but she's tired of having no light, tired of the heat. Whenever she takes a cold shower, as soon as she gets out, she's sweaty again.

The misery is shared, so people have started helping each other.

STILL POWERLESS: Half of Irma's power outages restored, but lights still out for 3.3 million Florida homes, businesses

At the State Theatre in downtown St. Petersburg, general manager Kendra Marolf sat at a bar stool by the door. The ice machine inside gurgled. She's been handing out free ice since Tuesday. The air conditioning kept the concrete floor cool for dogs to run. Friends came with coolers and trash bags to haul ice from the back room.

"Can I give you some cash?" asked Kayla Robison, 34, on her way out the door, hefting a blue cooler against her hip.

"Get out of here, girl," Marloff said.

A few blocks away, a police officer's whistle pierced a still morning. The traffic light was out — one of dozens in the area — and some drivers needed herding.

On 18th Avenue NE, 53-year-old Elizabeth Skidmore kept flipping light switches as she walked through her house, a reflex she couldn't kick.

"I wonder how many lights will turn on when the power comes back," she said.

Her kitchen fridge stood with its doors flayed open, nearly every white shelf bare. She chucked old mayonnaise, lifeless veggies, yogurt that had failed the test of time. Her neighbors ran a black cord across the alley to a storage fridge out back, where she moved what she could keep: sparkling wine, shredded cheddar, buy-one get-one bacon, an open can of Pedigree dog food.

In the Old Southeast, 3-year-old Christian Taylor waved at a power truck rolling past his grandmother's home.

"Hi," he yelled, holding a rake twice his size. "Hi. Hi." He tried again: "HI!"

The driver turned into a nearby alley. Christian put his head down, went back to pushing around fallen palm fronds. There would be another one.

After all, the trucks were everywhere. They rolled around Midtown, where Pastor Roger Stroman stood sweating above a big, steel soup pot. He dumped in Georgia sausage, turkey wings, turkey necks, corn cobs, potatoes and rice for a cookout outside his church, Abundant Life Ministries on Ninth Avenue S.

Up the road, a St. Petersburg police officer waved on a driver, hesitating under an unlit signal on 22nd Street S. The driver wouldn't budge. The officer shook his head.

A line of people more than a dozen deep snaked around an ice shack at 18th Avenue S and 31st Street S. For $1.75, the machine kicked out 16 pound bags of ice, dripping in the 1 p.m. heat.

At Old Farmer's Creamery on Fourth Street N, the cow bell rang and rang. Emily Kapes walked in with her 6-year-old twin boys, ogling the glass display, desperate for scoops of Superman ice cream and mint chocolate chip after days without power.

Tables at a Clearwater Starbucks were hard to come by as people scrambled for outlets. Joe Pacheco turned on his cell phone for the first time in three days, finally able to respond to texts from panicked friends. He had been playing one-handed poker and blackjack since the storm.

Others charged their cell phones in cars, but only sparingly — they were low on gas, too.

All around the greeting became familiar:

"Hey."

"Hey."

"Do you have power?"

At an apartment complex in Temple Terrace, Scott Groves paced, counting the lit-up windows yards away from his dark apartment.

Stephanie Padilla and her family dragged air mattresses into their Port Richey living room and opened all the windows, hoping for a crossbreeze from the Gulf of Mexico. They cooked on a charcoal grill and spent days on the porch in the shade.

"I've never spent this much time outside in my life," Padilla said. "And once the power comes on, I don't care if I ever eat food off the grill ever again."

Lianne Parr and her husband put power strips on their front porch for their South Tampa neighbors to use.

In Central Pasco, a neighborhood rallied around free ice, a shared freezer and brunch.

On dark streets, people cracked windows, falling asleep to the rattle of generators down the road. They woke in quiet houses, made quieter still by the absence of the air conditioner's hum.

At a mobile home park in Riverview, Barbara Keplinger worked frantically in a sweaty, faded blue T-shirt, directing donations for her neighborhood.

Wednesday afternoon, she heard the power had come back on.

Keplinger threw up her arms and danced.

In St. Petersburg, city trucks rumbled through the Old Northeast, bumping over extension cords stretched from house to house. On 15th Avenue NE, Kelly Ware ran an orange cord down the porch stairs and across the road, a lifeline for her neighbor's fridge.

The street had become a dividing line — one side with power, the other without. Ware, 52, had watched her neighbor's power go out Sunday evening, but her lights only ever flickered.

"Hey, at least it looks pretty good here," a mailman told two men down the street, raking up branches while a shaggy dog sniffed around. "Yeah, we got lucky," one of the men replied. Across the street, sedate porch fans turned slowly in the breeze. Houses sat hot and empty.

A generator roared, loud as a school bus.

On the stoop of his apartment, Alec Liskiewicz, 23, sat barefoot, shirtless, smoking a cigarette. Another listless afternoon for chit-chatting and wondering when the power would return. His neighbor, Andrew Jacobson, 26, held his phone, corded to an external battery in his shorts pocket. Soon that would run out, too.

In a vacant lot on Central Avenue, dozens more power trucks idled. At Casita Taqueria, a hot pink sign on the door lamented the lack of power. A woman in a black-and-white sun hat pressed her face to the dim window of the Bungaleaux furniture shop.

Johannah Hall, 28, tapped at her laptop on the porch of the Craftsman House cafe and gallery with her dog Mango by her feet.

She waited for a text from her neighbor with news that her lights were finally back on.

Times staff writers Piper Castillo, Tracey McManus, Michele Miller, Laura C. Morel, Megan Reeves and Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.

Hot, sweaty and still powerless, Tampa Bay leans on each other 09/13/17 [Last modified: Thursday, September 14, 2017 3:39pm]
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