Hurricane Matthew has now been downgraded to a Category 2 storm with 110 mph winds as it moves past the coast of Jacksonville, but forecasters and emergency officials warn the wind speed isn’t as dangerous as the storm surges and flooding that is still expected to hit the Lowcountry overnight.
The latest National Hurricane Center forecasts predict Matthew will travel along the Beaufort and Jasper county coastlines at high tide around 1:30 a.m. Saturday. The National Weather Service warns that, combined with double-digit rainfall totals this weekend, could lead to storm surges up to 11 feet in some areas.
“Really the best thing now is to just hunker down,” Gov. Nikki Haley said during a briefing Friday evening. “Stay in a safe place. Don’t try and move around. Make sure you have your cell phones charged as best you can, because you don’t know when you’re going to lose that power.”
Although it’s only Hurricane Matthew’s outer edges affecting the state’s coastline Friday evening, South Carolina Electric & Gas is reporting more than 1,000 power outages across the state. About three-quarters of those outages are in Beaufort County. Meanwhile, the Beaufort Jasper Water Authority said it shut off the water to barrier islands close to the ocean (areas emergency officials have been trying to evacuate this week) on Friday. Those areas were Hunting Island, Fripp Island, Coosaw Island and Harbor Island at 3 p.m. Friday.
Meanwhile, Berkeley Electric Cooperative has de-energized its substations that power Kiawah and Seabrook islands and parts of Johns Island for the duration of the storm. Utility officials say they do not want possible flooding to cause unnecessary damage if the substation were still operating.
Curfews will be in effect overnight for at least five counties, including Beaufort, Berkeley, Dorchester, Williamsburg and parts of Charleston County (inside city limits of Charleston, North Charleston, and Mount Pleasant). “That is specifically for public safety,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said. “We do not want to have to deal with those individuals who might get themselves trapped out in this severe situation.”
All transit services along the coast have ended as conditions worsen Friday evening and all aircraft have been grounded. The governor said 174 medical facilities have been evacuated in preparation for the storm.
As the rainfall forecasts increase, state regulators are eyeing earthen dams that were weakened by last year’s flooding. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) director Catherine Heigel said about 44 dams with outstanding emergency repair orders are in areas slated to receive at least 4 inches of rain this weekend. 39 high and significant dams that do not have orders will be in areas with rainfall forecasts above 7 inches.
The governor said an estimated 355,000 people have evacuated from the storm.