Residents of the Bahamas and Florida’s Atlantic coast are bracing for the arrival of Tropical Storm Nicole, which is expected to bring a dangerous storm surge, downpours and strong winds to the region.
The storm, packing winds of 110km per hour (70 miles per hour), was about 97km (60 miles) east of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 386km (240 miles) west of Palm Beach, Florida, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory on Wednesday morning.
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“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,” said Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based NHC.
Crews evacuated dozens of people from vulnerable locations in the northwestern Bahamas as Nicole approached.
Ann Wilmore, 60, of Dundas Town evacuated her trailer and sought refuge in a nearby house. “I’m monitoring the weather very closely,” Wilmore said by phone.
The Bahamas Department of Meteorology said there were reports of a nearly 1.2 metres (4 feet) storm surge north of the town of Treasure Cay in Abaco.
Videos made by Abaco residents showed that the yards of some homes were covered in water, though the buildings themselves did not appear to be flooded.
“We are asking people to please take it [seriously],” said Andrea Newbold from the Bahamas Disaster Management Unit for Social Services. “Don’t wait until the last minute.”
In Florida, residents in at least three counties — Flagler, Palm Beach and Volusia — were ordered to evacuate from barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. The evacuation orders went into effect on Wednesday morning.
“Please make a plan,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cautioned residents during a news conference on Wednesday. “This is likely to be a storm making landfall and will affect huge parts of Florida tomorrow.”
In advance of the storm, Palm Beach International Airport closed on Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport planned to cease operations later in the day.
Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the United States, was set to close at 4pm local time (21:00 GMT). 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.
New warnings and watches were issued for many parts of Florida, including the southwestern Gulf coastline devastated by Hurricane Ian, which struck as a Category 4 storm on September 28.
The hurricane destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state.
Ian lashed much of the central region of Florida with heavy rainfall, causing flooding that many residents are still dealing with as Nicole approaches.
Nicole was forecast to move into southern Georgia on Thursday before moving into the Carolinas on Friday.