Crews have restored power to more than 32,000 Gulf Power customers in the wake of Hurricane Michael, but the work is just beginning for power restoration in the Panama City area.

Less than 24 hours after the storm, more than 3,000 storm personnel from around the country arrived in the Panama City area Thursday to begin the restoration and rebuilding process. So far, more than 4,000 customers have been restored on Panama City Beach.

Power has been restored to all customers in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties, and it’s expected that customers in Walton County will be restored tonight. But customers in the hardest hit areas should prepare to be without power for weeks. Initial evaluations by Gulf Power indicate widespread, heavy damage to the electrical system in the Panama City area.

“This was an unprecedented storm, and our customers will see an unprecedented response from Gulf Power,” said Jeff Rogers, Gulf Power spokesperson. “The destruction we’ve seen so far to this community and our electrical system is devastating — we’re seeing damage across our system, including distribution lines, transmission lines and substations.”

Issues like trees and heavy debris blocking roads, and communications down can slow down the rebuilding and restoration process, but Gulf Power is prepared for this type of storm devastation.

“Gulf Power has a strong history of restoring power — both at home and away assisting other energy providers,” said Rogers. “We have the resources we need for crews to begin repairs and we have great partnerships with state and local officials — as well as other energy providers — to help us get access to some of the hardest hit areas.”

Gulf Power’s process following the storm begins with evaluation teams arriving in smaller trucks that can more easily navigate through debris and damage. Those teams are still working to determine the damage to the Gulf Power grid in Panama City, but many roads still must be cleared and made safe before more crews can get their larger bucket trucks in to begin the restoration and rebuilding process.

As roads are being made safe, and with a restoration plan is in place, crews are beginning the restoration and rebuilding process. This process begins with transmission lines, which are the larger lines on the taller poles that bring power from Gulf Power’s generating plants to the substations. On Thursday, planes flew nearly 300 miles of Gulf Power transmission corridors — the first step which will ultimately lead to power restoration for customers in the Ponce de Leon area. Work like this will continue throughout the next several days.

Transmission lines are being inspected and repaired and substation crews are inspecting and repairing substations. Substations step down the voltage of the electricity from the power plants to a level that powers homes and businesses. So far, 38 out of 45 substations in the Panama City area have been inspected.

While any repairs are being made to the substations, crews will be inspecting the distribution lines and beginning the restoration process replacing poles, lines, transformers and more. Distribution lines carry electricity from our substations to homes and businesses.

Rebuilding infrastructure in the hardest hit areas may take weeks.