WILBUR-BY-THE-SEA, Fla. (AP) — Tropical Storm Nicole sent multiple homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean Thursday and threatened a row of high rise condominiums in places where Hurricane Ian washed away the beach and destroyed seawalls only weeks ago.
“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. He said most bridges to the beachside properties have been closed to all but essential personnel and a curfew was put into effect.
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.
The homeowners association at the Marbella condominiums 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.”
Nicole was sprawling, covering nearly the entire weather-weary state of Florida while also reaching into Georgia and the Carolinas before dawn on Thursday. Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 450 miles (720 kilometers) from the center in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida.
Nicole’s winds did minimal damage, but its storm surge was more destructive than might have been in the past because seas are rising as the planet’s ice melts due to climate change, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. It adds up to higher coastal flooding, flowing deeper inland, and what used to be once-in-a-century events will happen almost yearly in some places, he said.
“It is definitely part of a picture that is happening,” Oppenheimer said. “It’s going to happen elsewhere. It’s going to happen all across the world.’’
A man and a woman were killed by electrocution when they touched downed power lines in the Orlando area, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said. Nicole also caused flooding well inland, as parts of the St. Johns River were at or above flood stage and some rivers in the Tampa Bay area also nearing flood levels, according to the National Weather Service.
The worst damage appeared to be along the coast in Volusia County. Krista Dowling Goodrich, who manages 130 rental homes in Wilbur-By-The-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores as director of sales and marketing at Salty Dog Vacations, had witnessed backyards collapsing into the ocean just ahead of the storm.
In the aftermath, the backsides of about seven colorful houses along Highway A1A had disappeared. One modern house was missing two bedrooms and much of its living room as water lapped below its foundations. On a partially collapsed wall, decorations spelled out “Blessed” and “Grateful.” Goodrich burst into tears when she saw it.
“Half of the house is gone, but we did manage to get out family photos yesterday,” Goodrich said. “It is overwhelming when you see this. These are hard-working people who got to this point in their lives and now they lose it all.”
In Daytona Beach Shores, where beachfront bathrooms attached to the city’s Beach Safety Ocean Rescue building collapsed, officials deemed multiple multi-story buildings unsafe, and went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.
“These were the tall high-rises. So the people who wouldn’t leave, they were physically forcing them out because it’s not safe,” Goodrich said. “I’m concerned for the infrastructure of the area right now because once the seawalls are gone, they’re not going to just let people go back in … there will be a lot of people displaced for a while.”
Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at about 3 a.m. Thursday near Vero Beach, but caused no significant damage there, officials said Thursday. Part of a fishing pier washed away in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. But the brunt of the storm hit north of its center. By 1 p.m., Nicole’s maximum sustained winds were down to 45 mph (70 kph) as it moved toward Tallahassee.
The rare November hurricane left south Florida sunny and calm as it moved up the peninsula, but could dump as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain over Blue Ridge Mountains by Friday, the hurricane center said. Flash and urban flooding will be possible as the rain spreads into the eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England through Saturday.
Nicole was the first hurricane to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019. For storm-weary Floridians, it is only the third November hurricane to hit their shores since recordkeeping began in 1853.
All 67 Florida counties were under a state of emergency. President Joe Biden also approved an emergency declaration for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, ordering federal help for the tribal nation. Many Seminoles 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.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a Thursday news conference in Tallahassee that about 333,000 electric customers were without power at mid-morning, about 2.9% of the state’s total. DeSantis said 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.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they likely would not open as scheduled Thursday. Almost two dozen school districts were closing schools and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
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 (4 meters) onshore, causing widespread destruction.