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Tropical Storm Nicole sends beachfront homes into ocean

By Mike Schneider and Freida Frisaro

The Associated Press

WILBUR-BY-THE-SEA,FLA.>> Tropical Storm Nicole weakened to a tropical depression Thursday night as it crossed the Florida Panhandle on its way north into Georgia.

The storm had sent Florida homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean earlier Thursday and threatened a row of high-rise condominiums in places where Hurricane Ian washed away the beach and destroyed seawalls only weeks ago.

At 10 p.m., a National Hurricane Center advisory said the center of the storm was about 20 miles north of Tallahassee with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph. It was moving to the northwest at 15 mph.

The storm, which caused at least two deaths, was the first November hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 37 years and only the third on record. It delivered another devastating blow just weeks after Ian came ashore on the Gulf Coast, killing more than 130 people and destroying thousands of homes.

Although Nicole’s winds died down after it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane about 3 a.m. Thursday near Vero Beach, its storm surge slammed into the shoreline in the neighboring barrier island communities of Wilbur-by-the-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores, sending some homes crashing into the ocean.

Officials in Volusia County, which is northeast of Orlando, said Thursday evening that building inspectors had declared 24 hotels and condos in Daytona Beach Shores and New Smyrna Beach to be unsafe and had ordered their evacuations. At least 25 single-family homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had been declared structurally unsafe by building inspectors and also were evacuated, county officials said.

“Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” county manager George Recktenwald said during a news conference earlier, noting that it’s unknown when it will be safe for evacuated residents to return home.

The county’s sheriff, Mike Chitwood, said in a social media post that multiple coastal homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had collapsed and that several other properties were at “imminent risk.” He said most bridges to the beachside properties had been closed to all but essential personnel and a curfew was in effect.

Krista Dowling Goodrich, who manages 130 rental homes in Wilbur-By-The-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores as director of sales and marketing at Salty Dog Vacations, witnessed backyards collapsing into the ocean just ahead of the storm.

In the aftermath, the backsides of about seven colorful houses along Highway A1A had disappeared. One modern house was missing two bedrooms and much of its living room as water lapped below its foundations. On a partially collapsed wall, decorations spelled out “Blessed” and “Grateful.” Goodrich burst into tears when she saw it.

“Half of the house is gone, but we did manage to get out family photos yesterday,” Goodrich said. “It is overwhelming when you see this. These are hard-working people who got to this point in their lives and now they lose it all.”

In Daytona Beach Shores, where beachfront bathrooms attached to the city’s Beach Safety Ocean Rescue building collapsed, officials deemed several multistory buildings unsafe and went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.

“These were the tall highrises. So the people who wouldn’t leave, they were physically forcing them out because it’s not safe,” Goodrich said.

The homeowners association at the Marbella condominiums in Daytona Beach Shores had just spent $240,000 to temporarily rebuild the seawall Ian destroyed in September, said Connie Hale Gellner, whose family owns a unit there. Live video from the building’s cameras showed Nicole’s storm surge washing the seawall away.

“We knew it wasn’t meant to stop a hurricane, it was only meant to stop the erosion,” Gellner said. But after Nicole, the building’s pool deck “is basically in the ocean,” Gellner said. “The problem is that we have no more beach. So even if we wanted to rebuild, they’ll probably condemn the building because the water is just splashing up against the building.”

Nicole was sprawling, covering nearly the entire weather weary state of Florida while also reaching into Georgia and the Carolinas before dawn on Thursday. Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 450 miles from the center in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida.

Although Nicole’s winds did minimal damage, its storm surge was more destructive than might have been in the past because seas are rising as the planet’s ice melts due to climate change, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. It adds up to higher coastal flooding, flowing deeper inland, and what used to be once-in-a-century events will happen almost yearly in some places, he said.

“It is definitely part of a picture that is happening,” Oppenheimer said. “It’s going to happen elsewhere. It’s going to happen all across the world.’’

 

Tagged in: sea level rise

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