MIAMI (AP) — A Florida-bound storm strengthened into Hurricane Nicole on Wednesday after it struck the Bahamas as U.S. officials 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 records began in 1853 — the 1935 Yankee and Hurricane Kate of 1985.
Nicole was expected to reach Florida Wednesday night, triggering a storm surge that could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September, before heading to Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. Heavy rain was expected across the region.
Nicole’s center was 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday night, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 km/h) and was moving west at 13 mph (20 km/h).
The spreading storm became a hurricane as it struck Grand Bahama after making landfall on Great Abaco Island just hours before as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour.
Nicole is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Doriana Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
In the Bahamas, officials said more than 860 people were in more than two dozen temporary shelters. Extensive flooding, downed trees, and power and water outages were reported from the north-western region of the archipelago.
Authorities were particularly concerned about a large Haitian community in Great Abaco that was destroyed by Dorian and has since grown from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 200 acres (80 hectares).
“Don’t put yourself in danger,” said Zhivago Dames, Deputy Police Commissioner for Information, as he urged everyone to stay indoors. “Our first responders are out there. However, they will not risk their lives.”
In Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that storm surge from Tropical Storm Nicole had already breached the seawall along Indian River Drive, which runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. The Martin County Sheriff’s Office also said seawater breached part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents in several Florida counties — Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin and Volusia — have been ordered to evacuate such barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. Volusia, home of Daytona Beach, imposed a curfew and warned that intercoastal bridges used by evacuees would be closed if winds reached 39mph.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, is in one of these evacuation zones, about a quarter mile inland from the sea. The main buildings are on a small rise some 15 feet above sea level, and the property has survived numerous major hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’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 by early afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue workers will not respond if doing so puts their members at risk.
In Palm Beach County, about 400 people checked into seven evacuation centers, including Hidir Dontar, a software developer who was carrying a backpack and a plastic bag with his belongings. He said he didn’t want to stay in his apartment because the landlord wouldn’t put shutters on the windows, something that didn’t feel safe after surviving “a bad one,” Hurricane Frances in 2004.
“I didn’t want to be in the middle of a storm and let something go wrong and be like, ‘What do I do now?'” Dontar said.
Meanwhile, officials in Daytona Beach Shores have declared unsafe at least a half-dozen multi-story coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian and now threatened by Nicole. In some places, authorities went door to door, urging people to pack up their belongings and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort said they would close early Wednesday and likely not reopen Thursday as planned.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would cease operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, was also closed. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport were experiencing some flight delays and cancellations, but both planned to remain open.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said winds were the number one concern and significant power outages could occur, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, along with 600 Guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams.
“It’s going to affect large parts of the state of Florida throughout the day,” DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landfall.
Nearly two dozen school districts closed schools because of the storm, and 15 shelters have opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
A state of emergency has been declared in 45 of Florida’s 67 counties.
Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Floridanans should expect possible tornadoes, currents and flash floods.
The Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Philip Brave Davis, who is at the UN climate summit COP27drew attention to the connection between storms and climate change.
“Storms have always existed, but as the planet warms from carbon emissions, storms are increasing in intensity and frequency,” he said. “I know that weathering another storm is especially difficult for those in Grand Bahama and Abaco.”
Tropical storm winds extended as far as 485 miles (780 kilometers) from the center in some directions.
New alerts and vigils have been issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwest Gulf Coast, which was devastated by Hurricane Ian, which struck on September 28 as a Category 4 storm. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state. – Damage that many are still struggling with.
In Florida, the “combination of a dangerous storm surge and the high tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be inundated by rising water moving inland from the coast,” the hurricane center said.
Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said the storm will affect a large portion of the state.
“Because the system is so large, almost all of Florida’s east coast, with the exception of the extreme southeastern portion and the Keys, will receive tropical gale force winds,” he said.
The storm is expected to move into south Georgia via central and north Florida on Thursday, forecasters said. It was then forecast to move over the Carolinas on Friday.
“We will be concerned about rain when we arrive later in the week in parts of the Southeastern United States and southern Appalachia where there could be flooding and flash flooding with those rains,” Brown said.
Early Wednesday, President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to complement state, tribal and local response efforts to the approaching storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still responding to those in need from Hurricane Ian.
Scores of people snapped videos of the choppy ocean on the beach north of Mar-a-Lago as wind gusts neared 40 miles per hour on Wednesday afternoon.
Denny DeHaven, who works for a Social Security advocacy group, said he lives inland so he’s not overly concerned.
“It’s only going to be Category 1 – what worries me the most is a power outage,” he said. “The people I’m concerned about are those who live around here after seeing what happened in Fort Myers.” Hurricane Ian brought storm surges of up to 13 feet in late September and caused widespread destruction.
In a video posted to Twitter, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the tide had already arrived and dozens of oceanfront buildings had been declared structurally unsafe. Mandatory evacuation was issued for the beach side and a curfew was scheduled for 7 p.m
“We’re expecting a really tough night here,” Chitwood said.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press reporters Zeke Miller in Washington, DC and Terry Spencer in Palm Beach, Florida contributed to this report.