Tropical Storm Nicole forces people from homes in Bahamas and Florida

Tropical Storm Nicole is approaching Florida's coastline from the northwestern Bahamas. Credit: AP

Tropical Storm Nicole has forced people to flee their homes in the Bahamas and is making its way to the Florida coastline.

It is continuing to intensify and could end up growing into a rare November hurricane when it starts lashing the US.

Already airports have been closed, along with Disney World, while many areas have been given evacuation orders, including Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort.

The former president was at the club for an election night watch party on Tuesday, but it is not clear what his plans are now.

Hundreds of people sought shelter in the northwestern Bahamas before the approaching storm, which has already sent seawater washing across roads on barrier islands in Florida.

The view of the intracoastal waterway from Mar-a-lago as Storm Nicole nears. Credit: AP

The US National Hurricane Center said the centre of the sprawling storm made 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," said Daniel Brown, senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center. 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, while flooding and power outages were reported in Grand Abaco. “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. Residents in several Florida counties — Flagler, Palm Beach, Martin and Volusia — were ordered to evacuate such barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes. 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 on Wednesday morning, and Daytona Beach International Airport said it would cease operations. Orlando International Airport, the seventh busiest in the US, was set to close too on Wednesday evening.

Sandbags are distributed at Mills Pond Park in Fort Lauderdale in preparation for the storm. Credit: AP

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, Governor Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur.

But he said 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well as 600 guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams. Almost two dozen school districts were closing classrooms for the storm, and 15 shelters had opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.

In total, 45 of Florida's 67 counties were put under a state of emergency declaration in response to the storm.

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Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said Floridians should expect possible tornadoes, rip currents and flash flooding. Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Brave Davis, who is at the COP27 UN Climate Summit, drew attention to the link between storms and climate change. “There have always been storms, but as the planet warms from carbon emissions, storms are growing in intensity and frequency,” he said.

“For those in Grand Bahama and Abaco, I know it is especially difficult for you to face another storm.”

The storm is expected to move across central and northern Florida into southern Georgia on Thursday, forecasters said. It was then forecast to move across the Carolinas on Friday. Early on Wednesday, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Florida and ordered federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local response efforts to the approaching storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is still responding to those in need from Hurricane Ian.