Nicole weakened to a tropical storm after making landfall early Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane along the east coast of Florida, knocking out power to thousands, pushing buildings near collapse, and flooding the coast as the first hurricane to hit the US in November in nearly 40 years.
The storm struck just south of Vero Beach with winds of 75 mph before quickly weakening, the National Hurricane Center said. Its strong winds, downpours, and storm surge thrashed some areas hit in September by Hurricane Ian.
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.”
More than 240,000 homes and businesses were without power early Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us. FPL said in a statement that by 8 a.m. they had restored power to about 178,000 customers.
Nicole’s peak winds coincided with low tide, limiting the storm surge and inundation on the shore. At Port Canaveral, the surge was measured at almost 6 feet around 4 a.m., just after landfall. Later Thursday morning, the surge was down to around 3 feet, but water levels are expected to remain high through high tide.
A tornado threat, plus powerful wind and rain, are expected to continue Thursday in parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. A tropical storm warning is in effect from Juniper, Florida, to the South Santee River in South Carolina and along Florida’s west coast — where Ian first struck — from Bonita Beach to Indian Pass, plus Lake Okeechobee. Storm surge warnings also remain in place across coastal Florida and Georgia.
Nicole is expected to weaken to a depression early Friday and become a post-tropical cyclone over the Southeast.
Nicole’s landfall Thursday was the latest in a calendar year a hurricane has ever struck Florida’s Atlantic coast. It broke the record set by the Yankee Hurricane, which hit Florida’s east coast on November 4, 1935.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.