A storm headed for Florida strengthened into Hurricane Nicole Wednesday afternoon, prompting evacuation orders in some parts of the state that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
GOP Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Nicole strengthened into a hurricane and “is expected to bring coastal flooding, heavy winds, rain, rip currents and beach erosion.”
At a news conference in Tallahassee, DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well as 600 guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams.
“It will affect huge parts of the state of Florida all day,” DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landing.
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Almost two dozen school districts were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Nicole was expected to reach Florida on Wednesday night and unleash a storm surge that could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September before heading into Georgia and the Carolinas later Thursday and Friday. It was expected to dump heavy rain across the region.
Nicole’s center was located 100 miles east of West Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday night, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was moving west at 13 mph.
The sprawling storm became a hurricane as 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 Florida, the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that storm surge from Tropical Storm Nicole had already breached the sea wall along Indian River Drive, which runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean. The Martin County Sheriff’s office also said seawater had breached part of a road on Hutchinson Island.
Residents in 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.
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Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, is in one of those evacuation zones, built about a quarter-mile inland from the ocean. The main buildings sit on a small rise that is about 15 feet above sea level and the property has survived numerous stronger hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago.
In Palm Beach County, some 400 people checked into seven evacuation centers. Meanwhile, officials in Daytona Beach Shores deemed unsafe at least a half dozen, multi-story, coastal residential buildings already damaged by Hurricane Ian and now threatened by Nicole. At some locations, authorities went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they were closing early on Wednesday and likely would not reopen as scheduled on Thursday.
Palm Beach International Airport closed Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would cease operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the U.S., also closed. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport were experiencing flight delays and cancelations, but both planned to remain open.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under a state of emergency declaration.
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Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Floridians should expect possible tornadoes, rip currents and flash flooding.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.