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Homes evacuated as Tropical Storm Nicole batters Florida

Flooding hit properties in Hollywood Beach, Florida (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Flooding hit properties in Hollywood Beach, Florida (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Tropical Storm Nicole hit Florida as a hurricane, washing away the remaining protections for a stretch of beachfront properties that lost their seawall during Hurricane Ian only weeks before.

In Daytona Beach Shores, surging ocean water threatened the foundations of at least a dozen high-rise flats and houses.

Nicole remains a sprawling tropical storm, covering nearly the entire weather-weary state of Florida early on Thursday while also reaching into Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama.

Damaging winds extended as far as 450 miles from the centre in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida on Thursday morning.

Krista Dowling Goodrich, who manages 130 rental homes in Daytona Beach Shores as director of sales and marketing at Salty Dog Vacations, witnessed the beachfront disappear behind some of the properties as evacuations were under way.

Tropical Weather
Nicole has smashed into Florida (Ricardo Ramirez/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

“While we were there the whole backyard just started collapsing into the ocean. It went all the way up to the house,” she said. The water also compromised the remaining land between a row of tall condominium buildings nearby, she said.

Officials in Daytona Beach Shores deemed multiple multi-storey coastal residential buildings unsafe, and went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.

“These were the tall high-rises. So the people who wouldn’t leave, they were physically forcing them out because it’s not safe,” Ms Goodrich said. “I’m concerned for the infrastructure of the area right now because once the seawalls are gone, they’re not going to just let people go back in … there will be a lot of people displaced for a while.”

The rare November hurricane prompted officials to shut down airports and theme parks and order evacuations in areas that included former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September.

Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at about 3am on Thursday, more than a hundred miles south of Daytona Beach Shores, before its maximum sustained winds dropped to 60mph, the Miami-based centre said.

Tropical Weather Florida
Waves wash ashore on Surf Road, Florida (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, advised people to understand that hazards from Tropical Storm Nicole “will exist across the state of Florida today”.

The storm left south Florida sunny and calm as it moved north but could dump as much as 6in of rain over Blue Ridge Mountains by Friday, the hurricane centre said.

A few tornadoes will be possible through early Thursday across east-central to north-east Florida, the weather service said.

Flooding will be possible, along with renewed river rises on the St Johns River, across the Florida Peninsula on Thursday. Heavy rainfall from this system will spread northward across portions of the south east, eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England through Saturday.

Large swells generated by Nicole will affect the north-western Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the south-eastern United States coast over the next few days.

Nicole is expected to weaken while moving across Florida and the south-eastern United States through Friday, and it is likely to become a post-tropical cyclone by Friday afternoon.

Nicole became a hurricane on Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama Island, having made landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco island as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 7mph. It is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.

For storm-weary Floridians, it is only the third November hurricane to hit their shores since recordkeeping began in 1853. The previous ones were the 1935 Yankee Hurricane and Hurricane Kate in 1985.

Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, was in one of those evacuation zones, built about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean.

Tropical Weather
Guests brave the weather in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

The main buildings sit on a small rise that is about 15ft above sea level and the property has survived numerous stronger hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up on Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked whether the club was being evacuated and there was no sign of evacuation by Wednesday afternoon.

There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order but rescue crews will not respond if it puts their members at risk.

Palm Beach International Airport closed on Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would suspend operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, also closed.

Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport experienced some flight delays and cancellations but both planned to remain open.

At a news conference in Tallahassee, Governor Ron DeSantis said that winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur, but that 16,000 engineers were on standby to restore power as well as 600 guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams.

“It will affect huge parts of the state of Florida all day,” Mr DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landing.

Almost two dozen school districts were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.