Matthew rakes Atlantic coast; US deaths at 10
CHARLESTON, S.C. >> A fast-weakening Hurricane Matthew continued its march along the Atlantic coast Saturday, lashing two of the South’s historic cities and some of its most popular resort islands, flattening trees, swamping streets and knocking out power to hundreds of thousands.
The storm was blamed for at least 10 deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. In its long wake, it also left at least 470 dead in Haiti in one hard-hit district alone, according to officials, with other stricken areas still unreachable four days after the disaster struck.
Matthew raked Georgia and South Carolina with torrential rain and stiff winds, and — for the first time in its run up the U.S. coastline — its storm center blew ashore, making landfall north of Charleston, near the town of McClellanville, where it caused serious flooding.
Up until then, the center, or eye, mercifully stayed just far enough out at sea that coastal communities didn’t feel the full force of Matthew’s winds. As the storm passed one city after another, the reaction was relief that things were nowhere near as bad as many feared.
“We are all blessed that Matthew stayed off our coast,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We are blessed that we didn’t have a direct hit.”
As of 2 p.m., Matthew — by some measures the most powerful hurricane to menace the U.S. in more than a decade — was just barely a hurricane, with winds of 75 mph, and was hitting Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. Its winds were down from 145 mph when it roared into Haiti.
From there, the storm was expected to veer out to sea and loop back around through the Bahamas and toward Florida, though as a barely noticeable wave.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory warned people not to let their guard down just because Matthew was losing steam.
As the hurricane began making its exit, it looked as if forecasters had gotten it right. Matthew stayed near the middle of the National Hurricane Center map’s “cone of uncertainty” as it scraped the coast. Forecasters defended the large-scale evacuations.
“What would you rather have as the alternative?” said Colorado State University meteorology professor Phil Klotzbach.
In Savannah, Georgia, a historic town of moss-draped squares and antebellum mansions, floodwaters several feet deep submerged a long stretch of President Street, which links downtown to the highway to Georgia’s Tybee Island. A homeless woman was seen staggering through waters up to her neck.
The shivering woman made it to the water’s edge. A bystander handed her a sheet, which she wrapped around her neck.
A Coast Guard helicopter crew also rescued a man stranded on a sailboat in a river near Tybee Island. And North Carolina officials said they had to rescue several people from cars and homes.
Matthew also brought some of the highest tides on record along the South Carolina coast. Streets in Charleston — a city of handsome pre-Civil War homes, church steeples and romantic carriage rides — were flooded.
Leigh Webber watched the torrential rains from the porch of her home in the city’s historic district.
“It’s not as bad as maybe I was expecting,” she said.
“I feel badly for a lot of the businesses downtown that have been closed since Wednesday,” she added. “I noticed a lot of hotels were completely closed. I know it was a huge financial loss for a lot of people.”
A homeless woman who identified herself as Valerie works her way along flooded President Street in Savannah, Ga., after leaving her homeless camp when Hurricane Matthew caused flooding Saturday. The woman said her camp was washed away and she had to leave without her nine kids. No other details were known.