Update: The death toll climbs to 16.
Washington: Hurricane Matthew’s rains triggered severe flooding in North Carolina on Sunday as the deteriorating storm made its exit to the sea, and thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes and cars. The death toll in the U.S. climbed to at least 14, half of them in North Carolina.
The storm was stripped of hurricane status just before daybreak, but the crisis – set off by more than a foot of rain – was far from over. “As the sun rises in North Carolina and the blue sky returns, our state is facing major destruction and, sadly, loss of life,” Gov. Pat McCrory said as the effects of Saturday’s deluge became clearer at daylight.
Rivers and creeks overflowed, driving people from their homes and trapping others as much as 100 miles inland. The unofficial rainfall totals were staggering: 18 inches in Wilmington, 14 inches in Fayetteville and 8 inches in Raleigh. McCrory said police and emergency crews had made more than 880 water rescues. In the Fayetteville alone, emergency workers and police saved nearly 600 people from rapidly rising floodwaters, officials said.
The governor said that four people were missing in the Fayetteville area, and that the full scale of the disaster was not yet known because the flooding continued overnight and there were many places that search teams had not yet reached. “There could be some backroads where we had people swept away. I’m praying that is not going to be,” McCrory said.
Most of the deaths happened when vehicles were swept away by floodwaters.
Shortly before daybreak, the hurricane was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. As of 8 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 60 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving out to sea. It still had hurricane-force winds of 75 mph. Forecasters said North Carolina and Virginia could get even more rain and warned of the danger of life-threatening flooding through Monday night. “Stay home. Most of your church services have been cancelled. There’s no reason to go out. Take the day off,” Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson said.
In many places, the damage consisted mostly of flooded streets, blown-down signs and awnings, flattened trees and power outages. As the skies cleared on Saturday, people started cleaning up, reopening their businesses or hitting the beach. The power started coming back on. And all three major theme parks in Orlando, Florida, including Walt Disney World, were up and running.
On Saturday, Matthew sideswiped two of the South’s oldest and most historic cities – Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina – and also brought torrential rain and stiff wind to places like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
After pounding North Carolina and drenching parts of Virginia, it was expected to veer out to sea, lose steam and loop back around toward the Bahamas and Florida, too feeble to cause any trouble.
For nearly its entire run up the coast from Florida, Matthew hung just far enough offshore that communities did not feel the full force of its winds. ” While Matthew’s wind speed had dropped considerably by the time it hit the Southeast coast, the storm will rank as one of the most powerful hurricanes on record, based on such factors as wind energy and longevity, and as one of the most long-lived major hurricanes, too. In addition to the seven deaths in North Carolina, there were four in Florida and three in Georgia.