OUTER BANKS, N.C. — Matthew, the deadly storm that has wreaked havoc from the Caribbean to the Carolinas, has moved away from the East Coast but the storm will continue to take a toll on the southeastern United States.
By Sunday night Matthew, which at one point was a Category 5 storm, had been downgraded from a hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone as it moved hundreds of miles east of the North Carolina coast. Forecasters expect Matthew to die out in the Atlantic Ocean within the next 48 hours, meaning it won’t have a chance to loop back and hit land again as some had predicted.
The region, which has seen at least 17 deaths across four states and power to over 2 million homes knocked out, will likely continue to feel the storm’s devastating impact. In North Carolina, rising waters have damaged hundreds of buildings, forced thousands into emergency shelters, and left nearly 600,000 customers without electricity headed into Monday.
“There’s been a really serious hurricane,” President Barack Obama said Sunday. “People were hit. They weren’t hit as directly as we had feared but it has left a lot of destruction in its wake.”
While Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are beginning to recover, North Carolina isn’t out of the woods yet as officials now brace for rivers top their banks during the next several days, leading to further destruction.
North Carolina under threat
State officials believe heavy rains — aided by wind-driven storm surges of up to six feet — could lead to flooding on a level unseen since Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999.
“Hurricane Matthew may be off the map, but it is still with us,” North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Sunday.
According to authorities, rescuers have saved 1,000 people across east North Carolina, including 701 in Cumberland County. The Coast Guard deployed a helicopter to pluck eight people from rooftops in the town of Pinetops.
One of the cities hardest hit by the flooding was Fayetteville, where National Guard members waded through chest-high waters to save those stranded. Trees toppled throughout the city.
Not far from Fayettteville, Matthew’s heavy rains caused breaches in dams near both Raleigh and Lumberton.
With the Tar River expected to crest at 35.8 feet, more than 15 feet above flood stage, authorities ordered a mandatory evacuation Sunday for parts of Greenville, Goldsboro, Princeville, Tarboro and other nearby towns.
Power crews still need to restore electricity to about 585,000 customers, the North Carolina Emergency Management said late Sunday.
Flooding in Georgia, South Carolina
A total of three people died in the Palmetto State due to Matthew.
David L. Outlaw, 66, drowned when his wheelchair got pinned down in standing water at a nursing facility’s courtyard, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said. Bodies were also found in vehicles in Florence and Pamplico, though autopsies were pending, Florence County Deputy Coroner Bo Myers said.
Storm surge had sent water spilling into the streets of coastal towns like Myrtle Beach Saturday before the storm’s center arrived, video posted by CNN affiliate WPDE showed. But elsewhere, like in Charleston, engineers had already reopened major roadways including the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge upon inspection, the Post-Courier reported.
With conditions improving, Gov. Nikki Haley lifted evacuation orders Sunday in half of the eight remaining counties. While people can now return home to Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton counties, evacuation orders remain in place for Beaufort, Georgetown, Horry and Jasper counties.
Still, Haley cautioned drivers about dangerous road conditions.
“I’m going to ask for patience,” Haley said. “Do not plan to go home.”
In Savannah, Georgia, Sue Alice Walker, 85, awoke this weekend to find 3 inches of water flowing inside her home.
“First, I saw it in the living room, then in the kitchen, and then last it came in my son’s room,” she told CNN’s Sara Ganim.
Over the weekend, Walker had to mop and shovel the water into buckets, hoping to salvage her house as the storm passed.
“The city of Savannah has already started to clean things up,” Savannah resident Jordan Studdard told CNN. “This town has been hurt but everyone is coming together to help.”
Florida begins cleanup efforts
In the wake of Matthew, Florida Gov. Rick Scott took an aerial tour of the Jacksonville area to survey the destruction.
He described the damage, including beach erosion and washed out roads, as “unbelievable.” But he remained thankful the eye of the storm had stayed off Florida’s coastline.
“If it had a direct impact hit, it would have been a lot worse for our families,” he told CNN affiliate WJAX.
During the storm, raging waters made roadways look more like rivers in parts of Jacksonville and other coastal communities. Meteorologists noted that storm surge went higher than four feet in some areas.
But Jacksonville wasn’t battered as much as initially expected, even though the Jacksonville Beach Pier dramatically washed away Friday morning, according to CNN affiliate WFOX/WJAX.
On Sunday, Scott said 132,000 homes still had no power, though the cleanup had started to move quickly in areas struck by the storm. He had a simple goal for Monday: Get most schools and businesses open again.