Hurricane Matthew is weakening, but it is still likely to pack dangerous winds and a potentially deadly storm surge as it reaches South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley said at a news conference Friday evening.
Already, 48 mph gusts have been reported on Hilton Head Island, and water has crossed causeways in Beaufort County and on Edisto Island.
Matthew was a category 2 storm, with sustained winds of 110 mph as Haley spoke just after 6 p.m., and it is expected to be downgraded to a category 1 storm by the time it clears the Palmetto State coast.
Nonetheless, it is pushing a wall of water that could cause a lot of damage, particularly in Beaufort County, where the storm is expected to arrive with a high tide, around midnight to 1 a.m. Saturday. The tide will have receded by the time Hurricane Matthew reaches Charleston, Haley said, but high tide will have returned by the time it is near Georgetown and Horry counties.
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The storm surge could send water as deep as nine feet over dry land. Water that high could threaten life and cut off exits for those who did not evacuate.
Haley said about 355,000 people have now left their homes. Although public transit to storm shelters is no longer being provided, plenty of room remains in the state’s 69 storm shelters, Haley said. About 4,250 are taking refuge in facilities statewide, up from 2,822 this morning. Shelters in Ridgeland and North Charleston high schools are accommodating the most people, she added.
Only 19 of about 100 Daufuskie Island residents who were encouraged to leave Friday did so, said S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley.
Haley urged residents who stayed behind to “just hunker down.”
She told them to stay in a safe place and make sure cell phones are charged in anticipation of power outages.
Haley said it has become too treacherous for public-safety and law enforcement officials to be out and about, encouraging those who remain in harm’s way to evacuate. They will now seek shelter themselves, as preparation for the storm’s aftermath gets in high gear.
Water service on Fripp Island has been turned off, and many counties and municipalities have put curfews in place.
Utility companies and the National Guard are preparing for recovery, Haley said. About 2,500 National Guardsmen have been activated as of the governor’s news conference, up from 2,000 earlier in the day.
Evacuees will not be allowed back into their communities right away, Haley said. The first groups to enter will be the S.C. Department of Transportation, National Guardsmen and law enforcement, who will make sure it’s safe for others.
At least 60 maintenance crews in the Upstate and Midlands are prepared help clear roads in the coastal areas soon after the storm has passed, the S.C. Department of Transportation said in a news release shortly before Haley’s news conference.
“You will be able to access your area when it has been approved safe,” Haley said.
Even inland areas could be affected. As much as 6 inches of rain could fall on the Midlands, where torrential rainfall in early October 2015 caused many dam failures and flooding. State regulators are keeping an eye on 44 dams already under emergency orders and would be in danger if more than four inches of rain falls. Another 39 would be in trouble if seven or more inches fall.
Many dam owners have been asked to lower their water levels before the heavy rain arrives.