Hurricane Matthew is expected to slam the southeastern coast of North Carolina on Saturday, with the potential to produce historic flooding in parts of the state still sodden from recent storms.
The coast from Surf City down to the South Carolina line is under a hurricane warning as Matthew hugs the coast on its way north from Florida. The expected track of the Category 3 hurricane continued to shift Friday, as forecasters determined the storm would come farther north than previously thought before making a hard bend away from the coastline out to sea.
That means more rain and wind in North Carolina than forecasters had predicted Thursday. Gov. Pat McCrory said late Friday afternoon that the storm could drop life-threatening amounts of rain over a broad area of the state.
“This has the potential for North Carolina to see the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999,” McCrory said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
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Southeast North Carolina can expect to receive 8 to 12 inches of rain, with more than 15 inches in spots, McCrory said. The coast will likely see sustained winds of 50 to 60 mph with gusts up to 75 mph. Widespread power outages are likely throughout the region, he said.
“We could have prolonged power outages,” he said. “You should prepare for those prolonged power outages.”
Matthew is expected to weaken as it moves north but will remain a hurricane as the center of the storm approaches Brunswick and New Hanover counties Saturday evening. In addition to the hurricane warning to the south, most of the central and northern North Carolina coast, including the Pamlico and Albemarle sounds, is under a tropical storm warning.
The outer bands of the storm were expected to arrive overnight Friday in the Southeastern part of the state, with the heaviest wind and rain occurring Saturday into Sunday morning. The Triangle should see heavy rain Saturday, with gusty winds, before a cold front ushers in clearing skies on Sunday.
Storm shelters were opened Friday in Brunswick and New Hanover counties, where officials urged residents of flood-prone and low-lying areas to evacuate. Several coastal towns ordered all non-residents to leave as well. By Saturday morning, more than two dozen storm shelters will be open, including some in inland communities such as Fayetteville, Bladenboro and Greenville. To find a shelter, go to redcross.org or call 800-768-8048.
The final ferry from Ocracoke Island on Pamlico Sound left at 4 p.m. Friday to Cedar Island, while the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferries will stop running sometime Saturday morning, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“The time has come to secure our boats and get our crews out of harm’s way,” said Ferry Division Deputy Director Jed Dixon.
The National Weather Service says there could be up to 7 feet of storm surge and “a danger of life-threatening inundation” along the North Carolina coast. President Barack Obama emphasized storm surge when he spoke about the hurricane Friday morning.
“Many of you will remember Hurricane Sandy, where initially people thought, this doesn’t look as bad as we thought,” Obama said. “And then suddenly you get massive storm surge, and a lot of people were severely affected.”
Inland, the weather service has issued a flash flood watch for Wake County and areas south and east, including Johnston, Harnett and Franklin counties. The watch remains in effect through Sunday afternoon.
Recent flooding in the Sandhills and the northeastern part of the state will make those areas more susceptible to renewed flooding. Rivers and streams are already running high, and the National Weather Service has issued flood warnings for the Cape Fear, Tar and Lumber rivers.
At 5 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center said Matthew was a Category 3 storm centered 40 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla. Matthew’s top sustained winds were 110 mph, and it was moving north at 12 mph. The hurricane center said that so far the storm’s strongest winds have remained just off shore.
State officials began urging people to prepare for the storm Monday, when McCrory declared a State of Emergency for 66 counties in central and eastern North Carolina, from the coast to west of Winston-Salem. McCrory said he made the declaration partly at the urging of Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, because it would lift weight and other restrictions for trucks being used to bring in crops ahead of the storm.
McCrory expanded the State of Emergency declaration late Thursday to include all 100 counties to help provide resources for the eastern part of the state. It also means the state’s anti-gouging law is in effect, making it illegal for businesses to charge unusually high prices for goods and services.
Obama signed a request from McCrory naming the state’s 66 eastern and central counties a federal disaster area. The move will allow emergency federal aid and resources to flow to agencies operating in those areas.
Judy Clary, who owns the Brunswick Inn Bed & Breakfast in sight of the Cape Fear River in Southport, said Friday she and her husband Jim had boarded up the two-story house in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew. The house is believed to have been built in the mid-1800s, and with plywood over all the windows, “It’s like living in a tomb right now,” Clary said.
The couple have had the house for 20 years, Clary said. The first year, six storms came up the coast, and the Clarys boarded up the house for five of them. Now, she said, they don’t haul all that wood up and down the stairs unless it looks like conditions are going to be rough. This storm seems worth the effort.
Staff writer Martha Quillin contributed.