MIAMI, Nov 10 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Nicole swept through Florida on Thursday, weakening but still packing a mighty punch with a mix of heavy rain and high winds that downed power lines, flooded homes and killed at least two.
As many as 350,000 homes and businesses across Florida were without power Thursday after the storm hit the Atlantic coast near Vero Beach, north of Miami, at 3 a.m. EST (0800 GMT), while a Late season hurricane was carrying winds of 75 miles. per hour (120 km per hour).
The eighth Atlantic hurricane of the year and its 14th named hurricane system, Nicole was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly after moving inland and later a depression.
Nicole was expected to become a post-tropical cyclone on Friday and continued to bring heavy rain to the southeast, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday.
“We are ready and resources are available for post-storm needs,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a press conference. “It’s still a big storm and it’s affecting a lot of the state.”
Several beachfront homes have collapsed in the upscale community of Wilbur-by-the-Sea, just south of Daytona Beach, and several more have been left on the brink after waves of surf kicked up by strong winds undermined the foundations of buildings.
The homes had already been evacuated and no one was injured, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
About 150 residents of two coastal condominium complexes had been evacuated on Wednesday because buildings were in danger of collapsing from collapsing levees, Chitwood said.
In Vero Beach, the county seat of Indian River closer to where the center of the storm made landfall, much of the town’s boardwalk was washed away by pounding waves reaching 25 to 30 feet in high.
Volusia and Indian River counties were among several east coast regions hard hit six weeks ago by Hurricane Ian, a catastrophic Category 4 storm that first hit the Gulf Coast of Florida and then swept across the state to the Atlantic, causing some $60 billion in damage and killing more than 140 people.
Kevin Guthrie, Florida’s director of emergency management, warned residents on Thursday to stay indoors, even though Nicole’s eye had passed.
“There are high winds and potential for tornadoes,” he said.
MOON ROCKET SURPASSES THE STORM
Gusts of wind clocked at 100 mph (161 kph) at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, about 80 miles north of Vero Beach, rocked a new $4 billion moon rocket that NASA left docked at its launching pad to ride out the storm. But NASA said initial inspections showed the spacecraft suffered only minor damage, such as loose sealant and torn weather coatings.
By evening, Nicole had veered northwest as she circled over central and northern Florida towards the panhandle on the Gulf Coast, with maximum sustained winds clocked at 40 mph (65 km/ h), mostly over the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center reported. .
Downpours and high winds from the storm spread to Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city in the northern part of the state, in the afternoon.
Most of Florida’s 22 million residents remained under various storm warnings and watches. The video showed white waves breaking on the shore and crashing on the beaches as winds whipped over power lines and the tops of palm trees.
Officials said two people died on Thursday after coming into contact with a downed power line. About 17,000 utility workers were dispatched across the state to restore power once the storm was over.
State officials opened 15 emergency shelters across the region and activated 600 National Guard troops.
More than 60 school districts across the state were closed Thursday. Orlando International Airport ceased commercial flights on Wednesday while Walt Disney Parks and other theme parks were temporarily closed.
Before reaching Florida, Nicole triggered widespread 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 night as it first made landfall on Grand Bahama Island in the northwest corner of the Atlantic Antilles archipelago.
Nicole is only the second recorded hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States after November 4. Hurricane Kate landed near Mexico Beach, Florida on Nov. 21, 1985, Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane expert at Colorado State, told Twitter.
Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30.
Reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Miami and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Jasper Ward in Nassau, Sandra Stojanovic in Daytona Beach, Fla., Joey Roulette in Washington, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Rosalba O’Brien, Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast
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