Nicole leaves 4 dead in Orange County, wreaks havoc on coast

Nicole, as a hurricane and then tropical storm, tore through Central Florida on Thursday, leaving at least four dead, sending coastal homes crumbling into the ocean in Volusia County and washing out a part of the scenic A1A highway along the Atlantic.

The rare November system delivered another blow to areas still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which hit in late September.

Nicole turned deadly when a downed power line electrocuted two people in the Conway community, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Another two people died in a car crash on Florida’s Turnpike during the storm, Orange County officials said. Those fatalities are considered by county officials to be “probable storm-related” and are awaiting official confirmation.

Cocoa Police reported a 68-year-old man riding out Nicole on a yacht died after an attempted rescue during the storm’s peak early Thursday. That death remains under investigation.

Several beachfront homes collapsed in Wilbur-by-the-Sea, an unincorporated community on Volusia County’s coast, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. Police evacuated condo towers declared to be unsafe in nearby Daytona Beach Shores because of the eroded shoreline.

At least 25 homes and 24 hotels or condo buildings have been declared unsafe and evacuated, according to Volusia County officials. Damage at those structures varies from partial collapses to erosion that requires an engineering inspection, county officials said.

“The structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented,” Volusia County Manager George Recktenwald said. “We have never experienced anything like this before.”

A section of A1A washed out in Flagler Beach, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office reported. That coastal highway also suffered significant damage during Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Nicole made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at about 3 a.m. Thursday near Vero Beach, only the third hurricane to hit Florida in November since record keeping began in 1853.

It quickly weakened to a tropical storm, but its massive 450-mile wind field enveloped nearly the entire state. All 67 Florida counties were under a state of emergency.

Orange County experienced sustained winds of 47 mph and wind gusts as high as 66 mph, County Mayor Jerry Demings said.

The unusual late-season storm toppled a tall Christmas tree at Cranes Roost Park in Altamonte Springs. A tree fell on a house in Orange County, but no one was hurt, Demings said.

Gusts in Brevard County on the coast reached 74 mph, according to preliminary data from the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

NASA teams will inspect the Artemis 1 moon rocket for damage, which remained on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center to ride out the storm. An elevated sensor on the pad recorded a wind gust of 100 mph.

Nicole didn’t cause the widespread flooding in Central Florida that Ian did. The Category 4 storm that made landfall in southwest Florida dumped as much as 2 feet of rain in some spots, said Megan Tollefsen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

In Osceola County, Kissimmee received about 2 to 3 inches of rain from Nicole and countywide the total was about 1 to 2 inches. Local lakes and water systems have the capacity to handle that total, officials said.

Shingle Creek was under “action stage,” meaning that there was no flooding anticipated. Other lakes were also below levels reached during Hurricane Ian, when 15 inches of rain fell.

The St. Johns River at Astor is expected to remain at major flood stage into early next week and slowly fall. The St. Johns River above Lake Harney is at moderate flood stage and could potentially rise slightly. At Sanford, the St. Johns River is at minor flood stage and could also rise slightly.

Smaller waterways, such as Shingle Creek and Little Wekiva Creek, could rise but not to the extent they did after Ian, Tollefsen said.

“There are still hazards that remain even though Nicole is leaving our area,” she said. “There will be flooding especially along the coast from storm surge. Don’t walk through or drive through water. Practice generator safety.”

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 274,900 customers were without power across the state, according to the Florida Public Service Commission. Outages peaked at noon with nearly 355,000 customers affected.

Sally Thelen, a Duke Energy spokeswoman, said the utility expected to have about 90% of outages restored by midnight.

The Orlando Utilities Commission is expecting to have power substantially restored by noon Friday, spokeswoman Luz Aviles said.

Volusia County officials are urging the public to stay away from beaches and damaged structures on the coast.

“If you go anywhere near the beach, you are putting your life in jeopardy,” said Tammy Malphurs, deputy director of beach safety. “The current state of the ocean is unforgiving.”

Orlando Sentinel staff writer Richard Tribou contributed to this report.