MIAMI (AP) — Nicole became a tropical storm on Tuesday as it headed toward the northwestern Bahamas and Florida’s Atlantic coast, forecasters said.
A number of warnings and observations remain. Many areas are still suffering from damage caused by Hurricane Ian, which hit Florida’s southwestern Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm in late September before dumping large amounts of rain over much of the central part of the state. Forecasters said heavy rain could fall on areas still recovering from Ian’s floods.
Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Abacos, Berry Islands, Bimini and Grand Bahama Islands, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in a statement. Other areas of the Bahamas, including Andros Island, New Province and Eleuthera, remained under a tropical storm warning.
Eliane Hall, who works at a hotel on Great Abaco Island, said there were long lines at gas stations and grocery stores as people braced for the storm’s arrival.
“We just boarded it up,” she said of the hotel, adding that the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that struck in 2019, is still fresh in many people’s minds. “We are still affected.”
Authorities said they were particularly concerned about those now living in about 100 RVs in Grand Bahama after Dorian demolished their homes and the migrant community in Great Abacos March Harbor, which Russell said has grown from 50 acres (20 hectares). Has grown 200 acres (81 hectares) since Dorian. The former Haitian migrant community was among the hardest hit by the 2019 storm, given the large number of vulnerable structures many lived in.
The hurricane center said the storm’s track shifted slightly north overnight, but the exact path remains uncertain as it nears Florida, where it is expected to make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane late Wednesday or early Thursday.
Hurricane warnings were issued Tuesday morning for much of Florida’s Atlantic coast, from Boca Raton to north of Daytona Beach. Tropical storm warnings are in place for other parts of Florida’s coast as far north as Georgia’s Altamaha Sound. The warning area also extends inland and includes Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, with tropical storm clocks in effect on the state’s Gulf Coast — from Bonita Beach in southwest Florida to the Ochlockonee River in the Panhandle.
Bevin said the storm has a “very large cyclone envelope,” meaning even if it makes landfall along the central Florida coast, the impact will be felt as far north as Georgia.
However, the storm is not expected to affect Tuesday’s voting in Florida, Bevin said.
Officials in the Bahamas opened more than two dozen shelters across the archipelago on Tuesday as they closed schools and government offices in Abaco, Bimini, the Berry Islands and Grand Bahama.
Authorities warned that airports and seaports will close as the storm approaches and will not reopen until Thursday, and urged people in the shanty towns to seek safe refuge.
Communities in Abaco are expected to take a direct hit from Nicole as they are still struggling to recover from Dorian.
“We don’t have time to beg and ask that people move,” said Capt. Stephen Russell, Head of the Emergency Management Authority.
Some counties in Florida offered sandbags to residents. In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, shelters were scheduled to open at 7 a.m. Wednesday, although no mandatory evacuation orders had been issued by late Tuesday morning, spokesman Mason Kozac said. Officials also canceled public school classes for Wednesday and Thursday.
Any evacuations would be strictly voluntary, with residents “having a conversation with themselves about whether or not they need to go,” Kozac said.
As of 10:00 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was approximately 350 miles (560 kilometers) east-northeast of the northwestern Bahamas and moving at 9 mph (15 km/h) with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (80 km/h).
Tropical storm-force winds extend up to 380 miles (610 kilometers) outward from the center of the storm, the National Hurricane Center said in the advisory.
The Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1st to November 30th. The last storm to hit Florida in November was Tropical Storm Eta, which made landfall in Cedar Key on the state’s Gulf Coast on November 12, 2020.
Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Florida in November since records began in 1853, said Maria Torres, a spokeswoman for the Hurricane Center. The first was the Yankee Hurricane in 1935 and the second was Hurricane Kate, which hit Florida’s Panhandle in 1985 as a Category 2 storm.
Walker reported from New York City. Associated Press writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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