Tropical Depression Nicole made landfall early Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane along the east coast of Florida, causing what one official said was "unprecedented" damage to structures before it raked across the central part of the state as a tropical storm. Nicole sent multiple homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean and threatened a row of high-rise condominiums in places wherewashed away seawalls and other remaining protections only weeks ago.
A man and a woman died after being electrocuted by a downed power line at an intersection, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said Thursday.
"We are urging all of our residents and visitors to use extreme caution if they are outside in the wake of the storm today," the sheriff's office said on Facebook. "Never touch a downed power line. If you are driving and see a downed power line, change directions immediately."
North of where Nicole made landfall, first responders rushed to a couple's docked yacht early Thursday to help a 68-year-old man in distress as the boat was being battered by waves, Cocoa police said. The man died at a hospital.
"Multiple coastal homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea have collapsed and several other properties are at imminent risk," Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said in a social media message. In the Daytona Beach area, most bridges to the beachside have been closed to all but essential personnel and a curfew was put into effect, he said.
Wilbur-by-the-Sea is an unincorporated community on a barrier island with only beachfront homes. Next door in Daytona Beach Shores, a strip of high-rise condominiums were evacuated ahead of Nicole's landfall, and while they remained standing after the storm, their future depends on safety reviews.
County Manager George Recktenwald said during a news conference that officials assessing damage had already identified nearly a dozen compromised structures in Daytona Beach Shores and Wilbur-By-The-Sea, and they expect to find more.
"Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented," Recktenwald said. "We've never experienced anything like this before."
The homeowners association at the Marbella condominium had just spent $240,000 to temporarily rebuild the seawall Ian destroyed in September, said Connie Hale Gellner, whose family owns a unit there. Live video from the building's cameras showed Nicole's storm surge taking it all way.
"We knew it wasn't meant to stop a hurricane, it was only meant to stop the erosion," Gellner said. But after Nicole, the building's pool deck "is basically in the ocean," Gellner said. "The problem is that we have no more beach. So even if we wanted to rebuild, they'll probably condemn the building because the water is just splashing up against the building."
Initial damage assessments showed how Nicole left multiple beachfront properties teetering over the water. The Volusia Sheriff's Office posted a photo of a house where erosion had undermined the ground up to its main ocean-facing wall. A roof-covered deck jutted out over the eroded slope supported on narrow timbers.
What was a rare November hurricane had already led officials to shut down airports and theme parks and order evacuations that included former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago club.
Meanwhile, some 160,000 homes and businesses in Florida had no electricity, according to PowerOutage.us.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference in Tallahassee that there were 17,000 electric linemen ready to begin restoring power and that numerous other assets including rescue boats and vehicles will be deployed as needed.
"We're ready and we have resources to respond to whatever post-storm needs may arise," the governor said.
Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane just south of Vero Beach, the National Hurricane Center said. As of Thursday night, it had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, as it moves northwest at 15 mph. The center of Nicole will move into southwestern Georgia later Thursday night and into western South Carolina on Friday, the NHC said.
Nicole is forecast to dissipate as it merges with a frontal boundary over the eastern U.S. by Friday night, the NHC said.
Tropical-storm force winds from the sprawling storm extended as far as 175 miles from the center in some directions.
Mike's Weather Page tweeted videos of dramatic scenes as the storm was crashing ashore.
Nicole became a hurricane Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama Island after making landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco island as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph. It's the first storm to hit the Bahamas since, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
For storm-weary Floridians, it's 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 the evacuation zones, about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean. The main buildings sit on a small rise about 15 feet 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 Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked whether the club was being evacuated. There was no sign of evacuation by Wednesday afternoon.
There's no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue crews won't respond if it puts their members at risk.
Officials in Daytona Beach Shores deemed unsafe at least a half dozen, multi-story, coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian. At some locations, authorities went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they likely would not open as scheduled Thursday.
Palm Beach International Airport reopened Thursday morning and Daytona Beach International Airport said it planned to reopen Friday. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the U.S., planned to resume limited operations Thursday night. Farther south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport experienced some flight delays and cancellations but both planned to remain open.
Almost two dozen school districts were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida's east coast, DeSantis said.
All of Florida's 67 counties were under a state of emergency declaration. President Biden also approved an emergency declaration for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, ordering federal help for the tribal nation, many of whose members live on six reservations around the state. The tribe also owns the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, with several of its hotels and casinos in Nicole's path.
Parts of Florida were devastated by Hurricane Ian, which struck as a Category 4 storm. Ian destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state — damage that many are still dealing with — and sent a storm surge of up to 13 feet onshore, causing widespread destruction.
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