MIAMI — A Florida-bound storm turned into Hurricane Nicole on Wednesday after hitting the Bahamas as U.S. authorities ordered evacuations that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
It’s a rare November hurricane for storm-weary Florida, where only two such hurricanes have made landfall since record-keeping began in 1853 – Hurricane Yankee in 1935 and Hurricane Kate in 1985. .
Nicole was expected to reach Florida on Wednesday evening and trigger a storm surge that could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September before heading into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. Heavy rain was forecast to fall on the area.
The center of Nicole was located 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday evening, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 km/h) and was moving west at 12 mph (19 km/h).
The sprawling storm became a hurricane when it slammed into Grand Bahama, having made landfall hours earlier on the island of Great Abaco as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
Nicole is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
In the Bahamas, officials said more than 860 people were in more than two dozen shelters. Significant flooding, downed trees, and power and water outages were reported in the northwestern region of the archipelago.
Authorities were particularly concerned about a large Haitian community in Great Abaco that was destroyed by Dorian and has since shrunk from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 200 acres (80 hectares).
“Don’t put yourself in danger,” Zhivago Dames, deputy police information commissioner, said as he urged everyone to stay indoors. “Our first responders are there. However, they will not put their lives at risk.”
In Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that storm surge from Tropical Storm Nicole had already breached the levee along Indian River Drive, which parallels the Atlantic Ocean. . The Martin County Sheriff’s Office also said seawater breached part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents of several Florida counties — Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin and Volusia — have been ordered to evacuate these barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. Volusia, home to Daytona Beach, imposed a curfew and warned that intercoastal bridges used by evacuees would close when winds reached 39 mph.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, is in one such evacuation zone, built about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean. The main buildings sit on a small rise of about 15 feet (4.6 meters) above sea level and the property has survived many stronger hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. . The station’s security office hung up on Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked if the club was being evacuated and there were no signs of an evacuation as of early afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue teams will not respond if doing so puts their members at risk.
In Palm Beach County, some 400 people checked in at seven evacuation centers, including Hidir Dontar, a software engineer carrying a backpack and a plastic bag with his belongings. He said he didn’t want to stay in his apartment because the landlord didn’t put shutters on the windows, something he felt unsafe after experiencing “a bad” 2004 Hurricane Frances.
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of the storm, have something go wrong and be like, ‘What do I do now? ‘” Dontar said.
Meanwhile, Daytona Beach Shores officials have deemed at least half a dozen multi-story coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian and now threatened by Nicole unsafe. In some places, authorities went door to door telling people to seize their belongings and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort said they were closing early Wednesday and likely won’t reopen as planned Thursday.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning and Daytona Beach International Airport announced it would cease operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the United States, also closed. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport were experiencing flight delays and cancellations, but both planned to remain open.
At a press conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and major power outages could occur, but 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well than 600 guards and seven search and rescue teams.
“It will affect large parts of the state of Florida all day,” DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landfall.
Nearly two dozen school districts were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under a state of emergency declaration.
Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Floridians should expect possible tornadoes, rip currents and flash flooding.
Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, who is attending the UN Climate Summit COP27, has drawn attention to the link between storms and climate change.
“There have always been storms, but as the planet warms from carbon emissions, storms are increasing in intensity and frequency,” he said. “For those of Grand Bahama and Abaco, I know it is especially difficult for you to ride out another storm,”
Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 485 miles (780 kilometers) from the center in some directions.
New warnings and watches have been issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwest Gulf Coast which was devastated by Hurricane Ian, which hit as a Category 4 storm on September 28. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state. — damage that many still face.
In Florida, “the combination of dangerous storm surge and tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be inundated by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the center said. hurricanes.
Daniel Brown, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm will affect much of the state.
“Because the system is so large, almost the entire east coast of Florida, with the exception of the far southeast and the Keys, is going to receive tropical storm-force winds,” he said.
The storm is then expected to cross central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday, forecasters said. It was then scheduled to cross the Carolinas on Friday.
“We’re going to be concerned about precipitation as we move into parts of the southeastern United States and southern Appalachia later in the week where there could be flooding, flash flooding with this precipitation.” , Brown said.
Early Wednesday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Florida and ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts as the storm approached. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still responding to those in need following Hurricane Ian.
On the beach just north of Mar-a-Lago as wind gusts approached 40mph on Wednesday afternoon, many people took videos of the choppy ocean.
Denny DeHaven, who works for a Social Security advocacy group, said he lived inland so wasn’t too worried.
“It will only be a Category 1 – what worries me the most is a power outage,” he said. “The people I worry about are those who live here after seeing what happened in Fort Myers.” Hurricane Ian brought a storm surge of up to 13 feet in late September, causing widespread destruction.
In a video posted to Twitter, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the surge had already arrived and dozens of beachfront buildings were declared structurally unsafe. A mandatory evacuation was issued for the beach side, and a curfew was scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’re looking for a really tough night here,” Chitwood said.