By FREIDA FRISARO and DANICA COTO
Tropical Storm Nicole forced people from their homes in the Bahamas and threatened to grow into a rare November hurricane in Florida on Wednesday, shutting down airports and Disney World while prompting evacuation orders that included former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
Hundreds of people sought shelter in the northwestern Bahamas before the approaching storm, which had already sent seawater washing across roads on barrier islands in Florida.
In Key Biscayne, high surf caused some erosion at the Beach Club, but there were no incident reports being tracked by Key Biscayne Fire Rescue, said Chief Eric Lang.
At the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key, winds gusted to about 23 mph, and about 2.6 inches of rain had fallen in the last 24 hours.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the center of the sprawling storm make landfall on Great Abaco island around midday with estimated maximum sustained winds of 70 mph.
“We are forecasting it to become a hurricane as it nears the northwestern Bahamas, and remain a hurricane as it approaches the east coast of Florida,” Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, said earllier Wednesday.
Nicole is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019, before hitting Florida.
In the Bahamas, officials said that more than 520 people were in more than two dozen shelters. Flooding and power outages were reported in Grand Abaco.
Authorities were especially concerned about a large Haitian community in Great Abaco that was destroyed by Dorian and has since grown from 50 acres (20 hectares) to 200 acres (80 hectares).
“Do not put yourselves in harm’s way,” said Zhivago Dames, assistant commissioner of police information as he urged everyone to stay indoors. “Our first responders are out there. However, they will not put their lives in danger.”
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.
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 (4.6 meters) 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 Wednesday when an Associated Press reporter asked whether the club was being evacuated and there was no sign of evacuation by early afternoon.
There is no penalty for ignoring an evacuation order, but rescue crews will not respond if it puts their members at risk.
Disney World and related theme parks announced they were closing early on Wednesday evening 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., was set to close at 4 p.m.. Further south, officials said Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport were experiencing some flight delays and cancellations but both planned to remain open.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and 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 were closing schools for the storm and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.
Forty-five of Florida’s 67 counties were under a state of emergency declaration.