West Palm Beach: Hurricane Nicole pounded Florida's eastern beaches overnight and drenched areas still recovering from Ian as it weakened into a sprawling tropical storm Thursday, flooding streets and tumbling at least one building.
The cyclone made landfall as a Category 1 storm near Vero Beach, clobbering the state's central Atlantic coast with 75 mph winds overnight and dropping upward of a half foot of rain over inland areas that experienced devastating floods a month ago.
Dozens of buildings along Daytona Beach were evacuated as strong waves hit the shore, eroding beaches from Jupiter to Jacksonville. Wind gusts forced the temporary closure of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in the Tampa Bay area. And NASA teams were on standby to assess the 322-foot-tall Space Launch System rocket that weathered the storm from its launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center and is expected to takeoff next week.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared all of the Sunshine State under a state of emergency Thursday in what he called "an abundance of caution" as officials assess the impacts.
"This is obviously not as significant a storm as Hurricane Ian was, but coming on the heels of that, you're seeing communities, particularly in the Volusia County area, where you had a lot of that erosion on the coastline," DeSantis said. "This has put some of those structures in jeopardy, and they've been working very hard to make sure everybody is safe."
Evacuation orders were issued ahead of the storm in several counties, and local officials warned storm surge and beach erosion should not be taken lightly.
"There are dozens upon dozens of buildings that have been declared structurally unsafe here along the beach in Volusia County," said Mike Chitwood, the sheriff of the county located along the coast northeast of Orlando, ahead of the storm.
By early Thursday, some of the erosion damage was already visible: One home in Wilbur-by-the-Sea collapsed, and two others were left standing precariously along a cliff. Staircases leading to the coast from condo properties were swept into the sea. A public safety building with restrooms in Daytona Beach Shores partly fell into the tide. Next to the fallen building, a sea wall, a section of asphalt road and a parking area were steadily crumbling as ocean waves hit the shore.
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At Cape Canaveral, NASA officials were assessing how soon workers can check in on the rocket expected to launch next Wednesday, a spokesman said. The rocket's inaugural takeoff is slated to send the Orion spacecraft to orbit the moon. Teams will need to inspect the rocket for damage before it can proceed. It is designed to withstand gusts of up to 85 mph, but meteorologists recorded wind speeds in the area that exceeded that threshold.
As the storm moves inland, concern is shifting to central Florida communities where the ground is still saturated from Hurricane Ian's massive downpours. Rivers and lakes were swollen from the catastrophic storm that hit in late September.
Alan Harris, emergency manager of Seminole County, said neighborhoods still drying out from Ian were likely to be flooded again. After Ian, about 100 homes were unreachable except by boat. The water has been slowly receding, and the county expected that by this weekend, the last 40 homeowners would be able to walk down the street and into their homes without waders, "so we could go back to normalcy such as garbage collection."
"Now, it's back to parking at the end of the roadway and canoeing in," Harris said. "So basically it puts us back where we were."