Hurricane Nicole has made landfall on the east coast of Florida, battering the state with strong winds, a dangerous storm surge and heavy rain.
The rare November hurricane, which was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly after landfall, had already led officials to shut down airports and theme parks and order evacuations that included former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Authorities warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches hit by Hurricane Ian in September. The sprawling storm is then forecast to head into Georgia and the Carolinas later on Thursday and Friday, dumping heavy rain across the region.
Nicole was a Category 1 storm, with maximum sustained winds of 75mph early on Thursday, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
A few tornadoes will be possible through early Thursday across east-central to north-east Florida, the weather service said.
Flooding will be possible, along with renewed river rises on the St Johns River, across the Florida Peninsula on Thursday. Heavy rainfall from this system will spread northward across portions of the south east, eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England through Saturday.
Large swells generated by Nicole will affect the north-western Bahamas, the east coast of Florida, and much of the south-eastern United States coast over the next few days.
Nicole is expected to weaken while moving across Florida and the south-eastern United States through Friday, and it is likely to become a post-tropical cyclone by Friday afternoon.
Nicole became a hurricane on Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama Island, having made landfall just hours earlier on Great Abaco island as a tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 7mph. It is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.
Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s club and home, was 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 15ft above sea level and the property has survived numerous stronger hurricanes since it was built nearly a century ago. The resort’s security office hung up on Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked whether the club was being evacuated and there was no sign of evacuation by Wednesday afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order but rescue crews will not respond if it puts their members at risk.
Officials in Daytona Beach Shores deemed unsafe at least a half dozen, multi-storey, 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 likely would not open as scheduled on Thursday.
Palm Beach International Airport closed on Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would suspend operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, also closed.
Farther south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport experienced some flight delays and cancellations but both planned to remain open.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Governor Ron DeSantis said that winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur, but that 16,000 engineers 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,” Mr DeSantis said of the storm’s expected landing.
Almost two dozen school districts were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.