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Hurricane Matthew Makes Landfall In S.C.; 'Serious Inland Flooding' Reported

Huge bands of rain are seen in this satellite image of Hurricane Matthew just before it made landfall in South Carolina Saturday morning.
Huge bands of rain are seen in this satellite image of Hurricane Matthew just before it made landfall in South Carolina Saturday morning.

Making landfall Saturday, Hurricane Matthew brought floods and strong winds to the coastline of South Carolina and North Carolina, pouring rain into an area and bringing a dangerous storm surge. As of 5 p.m. ET, the storm's center was around 15 miles west-southwest of Cape Fear, N.C.

The storm made landfall near McClellanville, S.C., (about 35 miles northeast of Charleston) and worked its way up along the coast. As it did so, Matthew brought rains as far away as Virginia and Washington, D.C. — and the National Hurricane Center says that in the worst-hit areas, a "serious inland flooding event" is unfolding.

"Matthew is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 8 to 12 inches from northeast South Carolina into northeast North Carolina and southeast Virginia," the weather agency said Saturday afternoon, "with possible isolated totals of 20 inches possible."

Hurricane Matthew has been associated with at least ten deaths in the U.S., including three each in North Carolina and Georgia, and four in Florida. The death toll is far higher in Haiti, where relief workers are still trying to reach regions that were hit Thursday.

In North Carolina, parts of Interstate 95 and Interstate 40 are now closed, asnd the state already has more than 315,000 power outages, the state says.

"Hurricane Matthew is presenting major challenges across the state, with heavy impacts on road conditions across eastern and central North Carolina," Gov. Pat McCrory said. "We are seeing lots of fallen trees, downed power lines and flooded roads."

A bulletin from the state warns motorists: "It takes less than two feet of water to float an average size car. If line markings on the road are not visible, do not drive through the water."

As the storm lingered around Myrtle Beach, S.C., Saturday afternoon, local TV station WPDE lost power and resorted to a Facebook Live stream to keep its audience informed.

Assessing the damage, local newspaper The Sun News reported that several piers had suffered damage, and that the 1,060-foot Springmaid Pier was largely demolished.

The good news is that Matthew is weakening: The storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday, and its maximum winds, which had been measured at 140 mph days ago, are now at a still-dangerous 75 mph — a speed that the storm maintained through two updates from the National Weather Service Saturday.

Flood waters rose near Charleston, S.C.'s popular City Market Saturday, as Hurricane Matthew neared. The storm could bring flash floods and a surge of between six and nine feet, forecasters say.
Bruce Smith / AP
Flood waters rose near Charleston, S.C.'s popular City Market Saturday, as Hurricane Matthew neared. The storm could bring flash floods and a surge of between six and nine feet, forecasters say.

Despite the welcome news of a weaker hurricane hitting the Atlantic shore, officials are very concerned about perilous flooding along the coast from Georgia to North Carolina. And while the storm surge presents an immediate danger, it will be days before the area's rivers have crested as they handle the rain Matthew is bringing.

From Charleston, South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports for our Newscast unit:

"Rain and wind flooded several roads and made a large section of Interstate 95 is impassable. The National Weather Service is reporting storm surge inundation of more than six feet in Charleston. Authorities are also reporting downed trees.

"Local utility companies say there are downed power lines. Thousands of customers lost power overnight. Some hospitals in the area evacuated patients. Multiple cities and towns imposed curfews overnight to keep people off the streets. More than 1,500 people are in shelters in the Charleston area."

The National Hurricane Center says Matthew is moving toward the northeast at nearly 12 mph — a path that the storm is expected to continue on. But it added that the storm is expected to remain a hurricane through tonight.

"On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will continue to move near or over the coast of South Carolina this afternoon, and be near the coast of southern North Carolina by this evening," the agency says.

Governors in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina urged evacuations before this storm arrived; as of last night, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said, around 355,000 people had fled South Carolina's coastal areas.

In an update on the storm Saturday, Haley said more than 437,000 power outages have been reported in the state.

Friday night, Haley said 2,500 National Guard members had been activated in an effort to cope with the storm. She also said that while shelters remain open, residents shouldn't try to travel far; most counties along the S.C. coast are already under curfews.

"Really, the best thing now is to just hunker down, stay in a safe place, don't try to move around," Haley said Friday night. "Make sure you have your cell phones charges as best you can, because you don't know when you're going to lose that power."

In Georgia as of Saturday morning, 300,000 customers had reported power outages, NPR's Rae Bichell reports from Savannah, Ga.

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As NPR has reported, more than 1 million utility customers in Florida lost power due to Matthew; that number dropped to 764,000 Saturday afternoon.

Here's the National Hurricane Center's guidance on storm surge levels along the Atlantic coast:

"The water could reach the following heights above ground if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide:

"Charleston, SC to Cape Fear, NC...5 to 7 ft
"Cape Fear to Duck, NC, including portions of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds...2 to 4 ft."

Matthew has been dumping rain on the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia for more than 12 hours — and how dangerous the storm surge turns out to be will rely in part on what the tides are doing when the surge is highest. Charleston's low tide came around 7 a.m. Saturday — its high tide will hit just before 2 p.m., and the next low tide will come at 8 p.m.

Fort Pulaski, at the Georgia-South Carolina state line, reported a new record on its tide gauge, at 12.52 feet — breaking the mark set by Hurricane David in 1971.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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