Hurricane Matthew continues to threaten the Southeast coast Saturday, bringing its ferocious storm surges and powerful rainfall through the region.
Matthew — downgraded to a Category 1 storm — still maintained threatening power, with maximum sustained winds reaching 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an 8 a.m. advisory Saturday. The storm officially made landfall in McClellanville, S.C. at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.
“They eye or really, really close to the eye looks like it made a close approach to possibly making landfall,” Chief Meteorologist Brad Panovich said. “We won’t know if it officially made landfall until later.”
During a press conference Saturday morning, Governor McCrory said that areas east of Interstate 95 are expecting anywhere from five to 15 inches of rain as part of Matthew. This rain is expected on top of an additional 15 inches of rain that flooded the area in September.
By 3 p.m., the hardest hit part of the state was near Fayetteville, where over 10 inches of rain had fallen since midnight. Devastating floods covered the area, which received over a foot of rain a little over a week ago.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” Panovich said. “You cannot take this lightly. If you are in a flood-prone area or you’re driving in these areas, do not, let me repeat, do not drive into standing water.”
McCrory said Saturday afternoon that three people had died as a result of Matthew-related incidents. One person in Sampson County hydroplaned before crashing and two people were killed in a submerged vehicle in Bladen County.
"We've already had loss of life and we don't want anymore loss of life due to this very serious storm," McCrory said.
The Governor said the central and eastern parts of the state have not yet experienced the peak of the storm, urging anyone from Raleigh east to stay at home. More importantly, McCrory said stay off the roads.
"Because of the number of closed roads in Fayetteville, just don't get in your car," he said.
Closer to Charlotte, the rainfall totals aren't expected to exceed four inches. Some areas of Rowan and Cabarrus County experienced up to four-and-a-half inches, leading to a Flash Flood Warning early Saturday afternoon.
“What I expect to happen today [Saturday] is that back edge is slowly, and I mean slowly, begin to shift to the east,” Panovich said. “As we go through the day, I’m going to expect that area to pivot east. It may take a while, but that’s certainly what I expect to see happen through the afternoon.”
Due to the torrential rain and potential for flooding in the area, Saturday's Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was postponed. Charlotte Motor Speedway officials announced the decision at 10:30 Saturday morning. The race is scheduled to begin Sunday at noon, with the NASCAR Xfinity Series race that was originally scheduled for Friday to take the green flag approximately 45 minutes after the Bank of America 500 concludes.
In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley gave an update as the storm battered the state's coast Saturday morning.
"We currently have 78 shelters with 6,651 residents, which is up from 4,250 last night," Haley said. "We have nine open special needs facilities with 52 residents in those. We still have plenty of room in all of our shelters."
Haley reported that power outages were approaching almost half a million. Over 437,000 customers were without power as of 10 a.m. Saturday.
"There is nothing safe about what is getting ready to happen," Nikki Haley said Friday. "This is the last time you will hear my voice when I am asking you to evacuate. We need everybody to consider evacuating and take this very seriously."
At least four people died in Florida and over 1.1 million people were without power. An elderly St. Lucie County couple died from carbon monoxide fumes while running a generator in their garage and two women were killed in separate events when trees fell on a home and a camper.
As of 6 a.m. Saturday, more than 125,000 power outages have been reported by utilities operating in the Low Country as a result of Hurricane Matthew. South Carolina Electric & Gas Company reported a total of 105,404 outages statewide, while South Carolina's Berkeley County Electric Cooperative reported 20,114.
People in coastal areas should stay off the roads because “they will die,” warned Tom Johnson, emergency manager for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
“We are not anticipating going out and clearing any roadways or anything of that matter until at least Sunday morning,” Johnson said.
Charleston's police chief announced a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew for Friday to protect the public from the high tide expected at 1 a.m. “We do not want to deal with individuals who get themselves trapped out in this severe situation,” Chief Greg Mullen said.
Of the 500,000 people instructed to leave low-lying coastal areas, Haley said that more than 300,000 people had pulled out. Many of those who didn't, she said, were on Daniel Island, a 4,000-acre area on the east bank of the Cooper River in Charleston.
At least 18 roads in the city of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., are impassable, officials say, as the western eyewall of Hurricane Matthew moved along the lower South Carolina coast at 5 a.m. ET Saturday. Charleston County authorities reported trees and power lines down throughout the county as 1,538 people waited out the storm in shelters.
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