MIAMI – A storm headed for Florida strengthened into Hurricane Nicole late Wednesday as it battered the Bahamas, prompting U.S. authorities to order 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 recordkeeping began in 1853: Hurricane Yankee of 1935 and Hurricane Kate in 1985.
Nicole was expected to hit Florida late Wednesday or early Thursday with a storm surge that could further erode many beaches affected by Hurricane Ian in September before heading to Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. . She was expected to dump heavy rain across the region.
Nicole’s center was about 75 miles (125 kilometers) east-northeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 13 mph (20 kph).
The expanding storm became a hurricane when it slammed into Grand Bahama, having made landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco Island 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, authorities said more than 860 people were in more than two dozen shelters. Extensive flooding, downed trees, and power and water outages were reported in the northwestern region of the archipelago.
Authorities were especially concerned about a large Haitian community on Greater Abaco that was destroyed by Dorian and has since grown from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 200 acres (80 hectares).
“Don’t put yourselves in danger,” said Zhivago Dames, Deputy Commissioner for Police Information, as he urged everyone to stay home. “Our first responders are out there. However, they will not put their lives in danger.”
In Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet 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 had invaded part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents of several Florida counties, Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin and Volusia, were ordered to evacuate such 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 reach 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 numerous major hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up 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 you put their members at risk.
In Palm Beach County, about 400 people checked into seven evacuation centers, including Hidir Dontar, a software engineer carrying a backpack and plastic bag of belongings. He said he didn’t want to stay in his apartment because the landlord didn’t put up blinds on the windows, which made him feel unsafe after surviving “a bad one,” Hurricane Frances in 2004.
“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, officials in Daytona Beach Shores 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 take their belongings and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they would close early Wednesday and likely not reopen as scheduled Thursday.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would stop operating. 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 some flight delays and cancellations, but both planned to remain open.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur, but 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well as 600 guards and seven search teams. and rescue.
“It will affect large parts of the state of Florida throughout the day,” DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landfall.
Nearly two dozen school districts were closing schools because of the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under state of emergency declarations.
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 at the UN Climate Summit COP27, drew 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 in Grand Bahama and Abaco, I know it’s especially hard for you to face another storm,”
Tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 780 kilometers (485 miles) from the center in some directions.
New watches and advisories have been issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwestern Gulf Coast that was devastated by Hurricane Ian, which struck as a Category 4 storm on September 28. The storm destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state. – damage that many are still dealing with.
In Florida, the “combination of a dangerous storm surge and tidal surge will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be inundated by rising waters moving inland from the coast,” the hurricane center said.
Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, said the storm will affect a large part of the state.
“Because the system is so large, actually almost the entire east coast of Florida, except for the extreme southeast and the Keys, will get tropical storm force winds,” he said.
The storm is then expected to move across central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday, forecasters said. It was then forecast to move across the Carolinas on Friday.
“We’re going to be concerned about rain as we go into the week in parts of the southeastern United States and southern Appalachia where there could be some flooding, flash flooding with that rain,” Brown said.
Earlier Wednesday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts to the approaching storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to respond to those in need from Hurricane Ian.
On the beach north of Mar-a-Lago, as wind gusts approached 40 mph Wednesday afternoon, scores of people were taking videos of the rough ocean.
Denny DeHaven, who works for a Social Security advocacy group, said he lives inland, so he’s not too worried.
“It is only going to be a category 1; what worries me most is a power outage,” she said. “The people I’m worried about are the ones who live around here after seeing what happened in Fort Myers.” Hurricane Ian brought storm surge of up to 13 feet in late September, causing widespread destruction.
In a video posted on Twitter, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said the surge had already arrived, with dozens of waterfront buildings declared structurally unsafe. A mandatory evacuation has been issued for the beach side and a curfew is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“We’re looking for a very tough night here,” Chitwood said.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.