INDIANAPOLIS — Hurricane Nicole made landfall early Thursday along the east coast of Florida. The storm was already battering a large area of the storm-weary state with strong winds, dangerous storm surge and heavy rain, officials said.
As a tropical storm, Nicole already forced people from their homes in the Bahamas and shut down Florida airports and Disney World, as well as prompting evacuation orders.
At a news conference in Tallahassee, Gov. Ron DeSantis said winds were the biggest concern and significant power outages could occur, but that 16,000 linemen were on standby to restore power, as well as 600 guardsmen and seven search and rescue teams.
Among those are 120 Duke Energy employees from Indiana.
Duke Energy will also send contractors that do work for the company, including 300 line workers, vegetation crew members and other support personnel.
The crews from Indiana will stage in a safe location so they can respond as soon as it is safe to do so.
The storm has already sent seawater washing across roads on Hutchinson Island in Martin County, Florida.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the center of the sprawling storm make landfall on Great Abaco in the Bahamas – 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," Daniel Brown, a senior hurricane specialist at the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, said Wednesday.
Nicole is the first storm to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019, before hitting storm-weary Florida.
In Florida, the “combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the hurricane center's advisory said.
Hurricane specialist Brown said the storm will affect a large part of the state.
“Because the system is so large, really almost the entire east coast of Florida except the extreme southeastern part and the Keys is going to receive tropical storm-force winds," he said.
The storm is then 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.
“We are going to be concerned with rainfall as we get later into the week across portions of the southeastern United States and southern Appalachians, where there could be some flooding, flash flooding with that rainfall," Brown said.
Early 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.