ABC News(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) — Hurricane Matthew slammed the Atlantic Coast at the border of Georgia and South Carolina early Saturday, bringing torrential rain, powerful winds, a storm surge and the potential for catastrophic flooding after devastating Florida where 1 million people lost power and six died.
As of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, the National Hurricane Center had downgraded Matthew to a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph. Although the storm has weakened substantially, the hurricane center still warned of “strong winds and dangerous storm surge” along South Carolina’s coast as well as “heavy rains and gusty winds spreading inland.”
The National Weather Service also posted a new tornado watch for parts of northeast South Carolina and eastern North Carolina until 4 p.m. ET Saturday.
“An isolated tornado or two will be possible today along the coast of North Carolina and northern South Carolina,” the National Hurricane Center, a division of the National Weather Service, said in its advisory at 8 a.m. ET. “Although weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, Matthew is expected to remain a hurricane while the center is near the coasts of South Carolina and North Carolina.”
Tracking Hurricane Matthew
Hurricane Matthew brushed Georgia’s coast early Saturday on its way up the shoreline. The storm is still moving toward the northeast at 12 mph with the eye of the storm now just off South Carolina’s coastline.
As of 8 a.m. ET Saturday, Hurricane Matthew’s center was 30 miles southeast of Charleston. The latest forecast track shows the eye of the storm reaching Charleston at 2 p.m. ET, packing 90 mph winds. The hurricane is then expected to continue on to North Carolina before taking a sharp turn east over the Atlantic Ocean.
“On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will continue to move near or over the coast of South Carolina today, and be near the coast of southern North Carolina by tonight,” the National Hurricane Center said Saturday in its 8 a.m. ET advisory.
Authorities in Georgia and the Carolinas urged coastal residents to head inland as the most powerful Atlantic storm in more than a decade continued on its path along the southeast U.S. coast. Charleston County Emergency Medical Services in South Carolina suspended its service county-wide on Saturday, warning that high span or exposed bridges are unsafe for public travel due to high winds.
High tide in Charleston on Saturday is at 1 p.m. ET, around the time the hurricane could make landfall, officials warned.
Dangerous Combination of Winds, Rain and Storm Surge
Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the storm’s center, while tropical storm-force winds extend outward up to 185 miles. Wind gusts of 76 mph were reported at South Carolina’s Folly Beach and 55 mph in Orangeburg.
The National Weather Service measured a record tide level of more than 12 feet at the mouth of the Savannah River, which borders both South and North Carolina. Forecasters warned that the combination of a dangerous storm surge, the tide and large waves will cause rising waters moving inland from the shoreline to flood normally dry areas near the coast.
The water level could rise above ground as high as 9 feet in Georgia’s Altamaha Sound to South Carolina’s Edisto Beach and up to 7 feed in Edisto Beach to North Carolina’s Cape Fear. The National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening inundation” along the coastline during the next 36 to 48 hours.
Hurricane Matthew is expected to produce a total of 8 to 12 inches of rain near and east of I-95 in South and North Carolina, with the possibility of up to 15 inches in isolated spots. Forecasters said the rainfall accumulation could result in deadly floods and flash flooding.
Nearly 17 inches of rain were recorded at Hunter U.S. Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia over a 48-hour period, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“The storm still however is going to bring massive rain and storm surge today,” ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo said Saturday.
More than 300,000 people were in the dark in Georgia and 178,000 in South Carolina on Saturday morning. Floodwaters, downed trees and debris clogged roads in much of Matthew’s storm path across three states, rendering I-95 in South Carolina impassible early Saturday.
In an interview with ABC News on Friday, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told residents in evacuation zones in Georgia and the Carolinas, “You need to go now.”
“Many of these areas have not had this level of flooding since, like, the late 1800s,” Fugate said. “We know some people don’t evacuate.”
Millions Brace for Matthew’s Wrath
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered mandatory evacuations east of I-95 along the entire Georgia coast, which is home to popular beach towns like Tybee Island.
“There comes a point where we cannot jeopardize the lives of our first responders any further,” Deal said during a news conference Friday.
The governor added that he knows people who evacuated are anxious to return home, but they should not put their lives at risk by going back too soon.
“I don’t intend to prosecute anyone for not leaving,” Deal said. “I think Mother Nature will take care of them.”
As of Friday, 9,000 people are in 30 shelters in Georgia and 1,000 National Guard troops were deployed in the Peach State.
In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley ordered about 1.1 million people to move from coastal areas. The governor was worried that not enough people evacuated.
“The best thing now is to just hunker down, stay in a safe place,” Haley said Friday. “Don’t move, don’t try and move around, make sure you have your cell phones charged.
Haley said the state was preparing for major storm surges, winds, wet grounds, falling trees and power outages. There is “nothing safe about what’s getting ready to happen,” she said.
As North Carolina braces for intense winds and rains, Gov. Pat McCrory called the storm potentially the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. McCrory said coastal regions could see rainfall totals of 15 inches or more from Friday through Sunday, and storm surge totals could reach 2 to 6 feet.
“What we feared is now happening in North Carolina,” McCrory said.
McCroy said the most immediate concern is life-threatening rain and water, adding that some rivers are already at high levels from past flooding.
Florida Awakens to Devastation
Meanwhile, the storm left a deadly trail of destruction in Florida. Six people in the state have died from Hurricane Matthew, authorities said.
In Jacksonville, officials said at a press conference Saturday morning that one person died in the area but they have not yet confirmed whether it was storm-related. The city’s beaches will reopen Saturday at noon as officials continue to assess the damages.
“I’m grateful that the damage wasn’t worse than it is, but there’s a whole lot of work to do,” Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said at the news conference Saturday.
More than 944,000 customers were still without power in Florida as of Saturday morning, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. Hurricane warnings cover hundreds of miles of the state’s east coast. A major hurricane has not struck the Sunshine State in over a decade.
More than 1.5 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Matthew as Gov. Rick Scott deployed 3,500 National Guard troops to assist in storm preparations.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Scott said on “Good Morning America.”
Hundreds Dead in the Caribbean
Hurricane Matthew has also claimed hundreds of lives in the Caribbean as it tore through Haiti and Cuba earlier this week as a Category 4 storm. The hurricane also crossed over the Bahamas on its way to the United States.
In Haiti, at least 271 people were confirmed dead Friday, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency told ABC News today. But Reuters, citing local officials, reports that at least 842 people have been killed as a result of Hurricane Matthew. Haitian authorities are struggling to gain a full picture of the death toll as communications are still down in certain areas.
Jean-Michel Vigreux, the country director in Haiti for the nonprofit group CARE, said in a statement Thursday that the southern part of the country is “now cut off from the rest of the country.” He added that the city of Jeremie was in “complete destruction.”
Hurricane Matthew Impacts U.S. Travel
The hurricane has caused major transportation disruptions, with more than 5,200 flights canceled between Wednesday and Saturday. The only airport currently closed is Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, which is expected to reopen Sunday at 8 a.m. ET.
Amtrak suspended services in the southeast because of the severe weather.
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