The tropical system Nicole held almost all of Florida in a rainy, windy grip on Thursday after it came ashore on the state’s east coast as the second-latest hurricane to strike the continental United States in recorded weather history.
Nicole was quickly downgraded to a tropical storm once it was over land but still caused hundreds of of thousands of power outages across the state, including tens of thousands in the Tampa Bay area. About 12,000 customers in the area remained without power on Thursday evening.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said about 17,000 linemen had been deployed to restore power.
“We’re ready and we have resources to respond to whatever post-storm needs may arise,” he said.
Some of the most severe damage from Nicole was reported in Volusia County, where officials said a number of homes toppled into the Atlantic Ocean just weeks after Hurricane Ian had washed away stretches of beach and destroyed sea walls. In Orlando, two people were killed after they touched a downed power line.
The effects were milder in the Tampa Bay area, though schools and some government offices were closed and a tropical storm warning remained in effect much of the day. Officials opened a few public shelters: One in Hillsborough took in about 40 people, two that opened in Pinellas sheltered about 80 and just three people showed up to a shelter in Pasco.
Winds in the Tampa Bay area on Thursday gusted as high as 68 mph, and 2 to 4 inches of rain fell in most places, according to Spectrum Bay News 9.
While several airports across Florida also closed Thursday, including Palm Beach International Airport and Orlando International Airport, Tampa International Airport remained open, though dozens of flights were canceled or delayed.
The Florida Highway Patrol closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge early Thursday morning because of high winds and kept it closed until the late afternoon.
Nicole made landfall at about 3 a.m. near Vero Beach, packing winds of about 75 mph, which just barely made it a hurricane. The distinction was significant, however, because only one other hurricane has made landfall in the continental United States later in the hurricane season: Hurricane Kate, which washed ashore as a Category 2 storm on Nov. 22, 1985, in the Florida Panhandle. Nicole also was the first November hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Kate and is only the third on record.
Hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.
In Volusia County, in addition to homes that collapsed into the Atlantic, a strip of high-rise condominiums was at risk and will need to be safety tested before residents who were evacuated before the storm will be allowed to return.
“Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” said, George Recktenwald, the manager for Volusia County.
In addition, the skeletal remains of six people believed to be from a Native American burial ground were unearthed 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 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 Archaeological Research.
Authorities had warned that Nicole’s storm surge could further erode many beaches. Though no major issues were reported from storm surge in the Tampa Bay area during the day on Thursday, surge — which is usually a tropical system’s most dangerous trait — could still be a threat.
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 neared flood levels, according to the National Weather Service.
Nicole had picked up speed Thursday and was moving toward the northwest at about 15 mph on Thursday evening. Forecasters expected Nicole to roll over north Florida and make its way into Georgia by early Friday morning.
Information from the Associated Press supplements this report.
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