Tropical Storm Nicole is heading for the Bahamas in Florida

MIAMI (AP) — Tropical Storm Nicole was heading toward the northwestern Bahamas and Florida’s Atlantic coast on Tuesday and should develop into a hurricane in the next few days, forecasters said.

A number of warnings and observations remain. Many areas are still suffering from the damage caused by Hurricane Ianwhich hit Florida’s southwest Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm Late September before large amounts of rain poured over much of the central part of the state. Forecasters said heavy rain could fall on areas still recovering from Ian’s floods.

Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini and Grand Bahama Islands, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a statement. Other areas of the Bahamas, including Andros Island, New Province and Eleuthera, remained under a tropical storm warning.

Eliane Hall, who works at a hotel on Great Abaco Island, said there were long lines at gas stations and grocery stores as people braced for the storm’s arrival.

“We just boarded it up,” she said of the hotel, adding that the impact of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that struck in 2019, was fresh in many people’s memories. “We are still affected.”

Authorities said they were particularly concerned about those now living in about 100 RVs in Grand Bahama after Dorian demolished their homes and the migrant community in Great Abacos March Harbor, which Russell said has grown from 50 acres (20 hectares). Has grown 200 acres (81 hectares) since Dorian. The former Haitian migrant community was among the hardest hit by the 2019 storm, given the large number of vulnerable structures many lived in.

The hurricane center said the storm’s track shifted slightly north overnight, but the exact path remains uncertain as it nears Florida, where it is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Hurricane warnings were issued Tuesday morning for much of Florida’s Atlantic coast, from Boca Raton to north of Daytona Beach. Tropical storm warnings are in place for other parts of Florida’s coast as far north as Georgia’s Altamaha Sound. The warning area also extends inland and includes Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, with tropical storm clocks in effect on the state’s Gulf Coast — from Bonita Beach in southwest Florida to the Ochlockonee River in the Panhandle.

Bevin said the storm has a “very large cyclone envelope,” meaning even if it makes landfall along the central Florida coast, the impact will be felt as far north as Georgia.

However, the storm was not expected to have any impact on voting in Florida on Tuesday, Bevin said.

Officials in the Bahamas opened more than two dozen shelters across the archipelago on Tuesday as they closed schools and government offices in Abaco, Bimini, the Berry Islands and Grand Bahama.

Authorities warned that airports and seaports will close as the storm approaches and will not reopen until Thursday, and urged people in the shanty towns to seek safe refuge.

Communities in Abaco are expected to take a direct hit from Nicole as they are still struggling to recover from Dorian.

“We don’t have time to beg and ask that people move,” said Capt. Stephen Russell, Head of the Emergency Management Authority.

Some counties in Florida offered sandbags to residents. In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, shelters were scheduled to open at 7 a.m. Wednesday, although no mandatory evacuation orders had been issued by late Tuesday morning, spokesman Mason Kozac said.

Any evacuations would be strictly voluntary, with residents “having a conversation with themselves about whether or not they need to go,” Kozac said.

Schools will be closed in several counties across Florida as the storm approaches. Some announced closures through Friday, which is already a day off due to the Veteran’s Day holiday. Other districts have said they will cancel Thursday classes.

In Seminole County, north of Orlando, Hurricane Ian caused unprecedented flooding, and officials are concerned the upcoming storm could bring another round of flooding and wind damage.

“The water on the ground has saturated the root structures of many trees. The winds could topple trees and they could bring down power lines,” Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris said at a news conference Tuesday.

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, the storm was about 310 miles (500 kilometers) northeast of the northwestern Bahamas and 420 miles (680 kilometers) east of West Palm Beach, Florida. It was moving at a speed of 9 mph (15 km/h) with maximum sustained winds of up to 60 mph (95 km/h).

Tropical storm-force winds extend up to 380 miles (610 kilometers) outward from the center of the storm, the National Hurricane Center said in the advisory.

The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1st to November 30th. The last storm to hit Florida in November was Tropical Storm Etawhich landed at Cedar Key on the state’s Gulf Coast on November 12, 2020.

Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Florida in November since records began in 1853, said Maria Torres, a spokeswoman for the Hurricane Center. The first was the Yankee Hurricane in 1935 and the second was Hurricane Kate, which hit Florida’s Panhandle in 1985 as a Category 2 storm.

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Walker reported from New York City. Associated Press writers Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida contributed to this report.

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