Floridians are once again picking up the pieces after Nicole slammed into the state Thursday, killing at least four people, ripping buildings apart and leaving some homes unlivable as it bore down with dangerous storm surge and powerful winds.
Nicole hit Florida’s eastern coast, just south of Vero Beach, as a Category 1 hurricane in the early morning hours, before weakening into a tropical storm and then a depression. It arrived as the state was still reeling from catastrophic Hurricane Ian, which tore a path of destruction across Florida after hitting the western coast just weeks ago.
Nicole was the first hurricane to hit the United States during November in nearly 40 years.
As the colossal storm approached, schools and universities closed, hundreds of flights were canceled, airports halted operations and some coastal residents were evacuated.
After Nicole passed through, streets were left flooded, roads and homes were damaged, and thousands were without power. More than 300,000 customers in Florida were affected by outages earlier. That number had fallen to more than 73,000 late Thursday, according to PowerOutage.us.
Two people died after being “electrocuted by a downed power line” in Orange County, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.
Two additional deaths are being investigated as possibly storm-related after a fatal car accident, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.
Downed power lines in flooded streets are among a multitude of hazards residents must maneuver in the hurricane’s wake as they return to their homes, and crews work to clear debris from roadways and conduct emergency repairs to washed out roads.
Nicole weakened into a depression Thursday night, according to a 10 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. The subsiding storm is headed north and is expected to move into southwestern Georgia late Thursday and Friday, and then across the western Carolinas later on Friday.
Meanwhile, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has extended a state of emergency to all counties “simply because we’re not sure of the extent of the impacts, in Northwest Florida in particular,” he said Thursday morning.
In Volusia County, at least 49 beachfront properties, including hotels and condos, have been deemed “unsafe” in Nicole’s aftermath.
“The structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented,” county manager George Recktenwald said in a news conference, adding that more buildings will likely be identified as compromised.
Ian-battered coastal buildings were further compromised by coastal erosion as the storm approached, prompting deputies to go door to door Wednesday evacuating residents from structurally unsound buildings in Volusia County ahead of Nicole’s arrival.
As the storm walloped the region, oceanfront homes in Wilbur-By-The-Sea – a barrier island community off Daytona Beach – collapsed into the ocean.
Resident Trip Valigorsky unlocked the front door to his home to see a gaping hole leading to crashing ocean waves where his living room once stood. He pointed to where the television and sofa used to be.
He was in shock, he told CNN affiliate WKMG.
“I was here Tuesday night and I kind of watched the wall deteriorate and then I woke up Wednesday morning and the wall was completely gone so I started evacuating,” Valigorsky said. “And now here we are.”
A day earlier, 22 homes in the barrier island community were evacuated after officials deemed them unsafe.
Nicole has pushed a huge volume of water onshore, tearing through infrastructure already strained by Ian.
Storm surge peaked at around 6 feet Thursday morning, sending rising ocean water to the streets, and pushing ashore on top of exceptionally high tides associated with this week’s full moon.
Drone video showed homes nearly hanging off cliffs and Daytona Beach hotels crumbling into the ocean in the storm’s aftermath.
“The devastation is almost impossible to comprehend- Imagine watching your home collapse into the ocean,” Volusia County sheriff Mike Chitwood tweeted.
Nicole, now a tropical depression with maximum winds of 35 mph, is churning 20 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida, according to a 10 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is expected to weaken over the next day or two, as it moves into southwestern Georgia then across the western Carolinas. Nicole will likely become a post-tropical cyclone on Friday, according to CNN Meteorologist Gene Norman.
The system is expected to dissipate as it merges with a frontal boundary over the eastern United States Friday night.
Still, Nicole is expected to produce significant rainfall as it moves northward, possibly bringing flash and urban flooding across portions of the Florida Peninsula, with renewed river flooding on the St. John’s River.
Localized flash flooding is also possible across a large area from the southeast, mid-Atlantic to western New York.
Up to 4 inches of rain are likely across cities including Jacksonville, Roanoke, Pittsburgh to Syracuse through the weekend, according to CNN Meteorologist Derek Van Dam.
As remnants of Hurricane Nicole race northward Friday through Saturday, its tropical moisture will be absorbed by a separate cold front currently delivering blizzard conditions across the northern plains, according to Van Dam.
Heavy rain and gusty winds in excess of 30 miles per hour will make traveling along the I-95 corridor tricky. Meanwhile, airline travel will likely be disrupted across many east coast airports as the storm moves through.