Nicole hit Florida's east coast as a Category 1 hurricane early Thursday, bringing strong winds, storm surge and heavy rain across much of the state and sending multiple homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean.
Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach at about 3 a.m. Thursday with winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said. It was downgraded to a tropical storm as it moved further inland and eventually into a tropical depression.
Damaging winds extended as far as 450 miles from the center in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida and into the northern part of the state Thursday.
"The wind from the storm is still very large, the impacts stretch far beyond the center track with much of the state already experiencing tropical storm force winds," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Nicole was the eighth hurricane of the 2022 season and a rare November hurricane for storm-weary Florida, where only two hurricanes have made landfall since recordkeeping began in 1853 — the 1935 Yankee Hurricane and Hurricane Kate in 1985.
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The hurricane left behind a swath of damage in Florida, washing away the remaining protections for a stretch of beachfront properties that lost their seawall during Hurricane Ian only weeks before.
"Impacts have been basically what's expected. You do have downed trees, you have power lines, you have some road washouts," DeSantis said. "We've seen beach erosion, especially in areas that had already seen erosion from Hurricane Ian."
Two people were killed by electrocution when they touched downed power lines in the Orlando area, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said.
In some areas, Nicole sent multiple homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean and threatened a row of high rise condominiums.
Near Vero Beach, storm surge slammed into the shoreline in the neighboring barrier island communities of Wilbur-by-the-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores, sending some homes crashing into the ocean.
George Recktenwald, the manager for Volusia County, which is northeast of Orlando and includes the two battered beach communities, said during a news conference that officials assessing the damage had already identified nearly a dozen compromised structures in Daytona Beach Shores and Wilbur-By-The-Sea, and they expect to find more.
“Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We’ve never experienced anything like this before," Recktenwald said, noting that it's unknown when it will be safe for evacuated residents to return home.
The county's sheriff, Mike Chitwood, said in a social media post that multiple coastal homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had collapsed and that several other properties were at “imminent risk.” He said most bridges to the beachside properties had been closed to all but essential personnel and a curfew was in effect.
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, 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 several multistory 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.
The homeowners association at the Marbella condominiums in Daytona Beach Shores 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 washing the seawall away.
“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 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.
Although Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach, it caused no significant damage there, officials said. Part of a fishing pier washed away in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, but the brunt of the storm hit north of its center.
In South Florida, a portion of a pier in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea collapsed Thursday morning due to the impacts from Hurricane Nicole. The portion of Anglin's Fishing Pier, located off Commercial Boulevard, collapsed as the storm made landfall. No injuries were reported.
Miami-Dade and Broward experienced flooding from heavy rain and wind gusts but left South Florida sunny and calm as it moved north.
Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they likely would not open as scheduled Thursday.
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.
PHOTOS: Nicole Makes Landfall as Hurricane Along Florida's Treasure Coast
The skeletal remains of six people believed to be from a Native American burial ground were unearthed on by Nicole’s wind and waves on a Hutchinson Island beach, according to the sheriff's office in Martin County, which is about 160 miles (257 kilometers) south of Volusia County.
“Detectives are working diligently to preserve and carefully remove the remains that are exposed with the utmost care and respect,” the sheriff's office said in a news release. The remains will be taken to a medical examiner and then to the state Bureau of Archeological Research.
At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, DeSantis said that 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.
Almost two dozen school districts closed schools for the storm 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 onshore, causing widespread destruction.
Nicole became a hurricane Wednesday evening as it slammed into Grand Bahama Island. It was the first to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019.