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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

In Parting Shot, Matthew Wreaks Havoc in Carolinas

(CN) - Hurricane Matthew finally pulled away from the U.S. East Coast Sunday evening, but in a parting shot it wreaked havoc in the Carolinas and left at least eight people dead.

By far the worst hit of the four southeast states impacted by Matthew was North Carolina, which for a time, based on forecasts, Thursday and Friday, looked as if it would dodge a bullet.

In the end, the state's coast took a direct hit. Officials said as of Sunday night, eight people have died as a result of the storm, five more are missing, and more than 770,000 people were without power as Matthew moved out over the Atlantic at about dinner time Sunday.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Sunday night that the state's death toll from Matthew is expected to rise.

Of the missing he said: "We're praying that we find them safe."

McCrory also told reporters Sunday that more than 1,000 people were rescued overnight Saturday, including a nurse who was found hanging onto a tree over a flooded road.

The vast majority of those rescued more than 700 were in Cumberland County, one of the most populous counties in the state and home to Fayetteville, which is its county seat.

McCrory said property damage from Matthew is significant, and that among the victims was Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, whose home was "totally destroyed" when a large tree fell on it.

In Lumberton, off Interstate-95, at least 400 buildings were flooded by Sunday afternoon.

And the disaster is far from over, the governor said.

Rivers in scores of locations around the state have flooded and many more, not to mention all of their tributaries, are expected to do so as storm water runoff from the 16 inches of rain North Carolina received from Matthew finds its way to them.

So far, there have been at least three dam or levee breaks in the state. More are anticipated.

McCrory signed a major disaster declaration Sunday that he said will provide immediate federal funding to respond to the disaster.

He said he has been in constant contact with President Barack Obama since storm moved into North Carolina late Saturday.

On Monday, McCrory reiterated calls for residents to stay indoors to avoid the dangers posed by hanging tree lines, downed power lines, and any flash flooding that might occur.

"This is still an extremely dangerous situation," he said.

In Charleston, South Carolina, officials and the areas utilities and power cooperatives are dealing with what is being described as the most damage to the metropolitan area's power grid since Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

As of Sunday night, about 115,000 residents of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties remained without power, and a number of coastal towns, including Kiawah and Seabrook were entirely in the dark last night.

Kim Asbill, spokeswoman for South Carolina Electric & Gas said the company is making progress in getting the power back on, but also acknowledged that "there's a lot more to do."

Asbill said the utility has 2,000 employees in the field, and has also hired 1,000 contractors to speed the work.

In addition to the sheer volume of work, repair crews have also been slowed by flooding, road damage, and even returning evacuees causing traffic tie-ups.

Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina said Sunday it was continuing to perform damage assessments.

By mid-afternoon, it said, it had identified over 263,000 electric co-op outages affecting more than 35 percent of their power delivery systems.

At its peak, the storm had caused more than 300,000 electric cooperative outages, the ECSC said in a statement on its website.

Hurricane Matthew also knocked out power to 137,000 Santee Cooper customers, and 84,786 were still without power on Sunday in the northeast corner of the state.

Charleston water utilities said they are currently experiencing no problems with drinking water.

However, because of power outages, Mount Pleasant Waterworks urged customers to reduce demand on the sewage system by minimizing toilet flushing, clothes washing and excessive water discharge.

Comcast, the primary cable and internet service provider in the area is also striving to restore service after widespread outages.

As for the Lowcountry's barrier islands, most of the damage that occurred to homes and vehicles was fairly minimal, according to the St. Johns Fire District.

"There were lots of large trees and branches across peoples' driveways," Battalion Chief Ryan Kunitzer said.

Berkeley Electric Cooperative shut off power to Kiawah and Seabrook islands ahead of Hurricane Matthew as a safety measure, but has since been unable to restore power due to problems with a transmission line owned by Santee Cooper.

The most impacted barrier island near Charleston appears to be Edisto Island, where Matthew's storm surge pushed miles of sand from the beach and onto roads and residents' properties.

Because the damage was so extensive to the island, Mayor Jane Darby could not say when residents will be allowed back. State and local law enforcement, aided by National Guard troops are patrolling to keep people off the beach and away from areas where hidden threats, like undiscovered downed power lines, might be lurking.

In Georgia, Hurricane Matthew is causing a delay in the high profile "hot-car death" trial.

Defendant Justin Ross Harris is accused of intentionally leaving his 22-month-old son, Cooper, in a hot car to die in June 2014.

The trial was moved from Cobb County to the other side of the state in Glynn County when Cobb Superior Judge Mary Staley Clark determined that an impartial jury could not be found in Cobb.

The storm has sidelined the trial since Thursday.

Courthouse News reporter Aimee Sachs contributed to this report.

Photos courtesy Edisto Beach Police Department.

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