About 330,000 homes and businesses across Florida were without power on Thursday afternoon after the storm, packing winds of 120km per hour, made landfall at 3am EST along the east coast north of Miami as a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.
“We’re ready and resources are available for the post-storm needs,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference. “This is still a large storm and it is impacting much of the state. Winds are the main concern with Nicole.”
Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s emergency management director, cautioned residents to remain indoors Thursday, even if the eye of the storm has passed.
“There are heavy winds and a potential for tornadoes,” he said.
Nicole was moving northwest over central Florida towards the panhandle on the Gulf Coast as it packed sustained wind of 70kph, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. It was expected to continue to weaken as it churns north over the next two days through Georgia and into the Carolinas, where it is expected to bring heavy rains.
Most of Florida’s 22 million residents remained under a tropical storm, high wind and storm surge warnings, along with local hurricane statements that urged people to stay indoors and watch for flooding.
The National Hurricane Center warned that wind-driven waves would wash over beaches and rush inland to flood low-lying areas well beyond the shore. It also said damaging winds were likely to blow down trees and power lines.
Officials said two people died on Thursday after coming into contact with a downed power line. About 17,000 line workers and other power employees are staged across the state to restore power once the storm passes.
State officials opened 15 emergency shelters across the region and activated 600 National Guard troops.
More than 60 school districts across the state were shuttered on Thursday. Orlando International Airport stopped commercial flights on Wednesday while Walt Disney parks and other theme parks were temporarily closed.
Local news footage on social media showed whitecap waves barrelling ashore and crashing into and past beaches as winds from the storm whipped electrical lines and the tops of palm trees.
Upon Nicole’s arrival, the state was still reeling from Hurricane Ian, a catastrophic Category 4 storm that made landfall on September 28 along the state’s Gulf Coast. Ian caused an estimated $60-billion in damage and killed more than 140 people.
Before reaching Florida, Nicole unleashed “extensive flooding” across much of the Bahamas, including the islands of Grand Bahama, Eleuthera, Andros and the Abacos.
The storm was declared a hurricane on Wednesday evening as it made its first landfall on Grand Bahama island in the northwestern corner of the Atlantic West Indies archipelago nation. It was downgraded to a tropical storm after coming ashore in Florida.
Nicole was only the second hurricane on record to make landfall in the continental United States after November 4. Hurricane Kate made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, on 21 November 1985, Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane expert at Colorado State, said on Twitter.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30.
(Reporting by Brian Ellsworth.)