Hurricane Matthew dropped torrential rain on North Carolina from Wilmington north through the Triangle on Saturday, producing major flooding, power outages, agricultural damage and at least four deaths.
As much as 15 inches of rain was expected to fall in parts of the state throughout the day, with the Sandhills area seeing the heaviest of the precipitation. Gov. Pat McCrory urged people to stay off the road, saying two people died when their car was submerged in water in Bladen County and another person was killed when a car hydroplaned in Sampson County.
ABC11 reported Saturday evening that the Harnett County sheriff said a motorist died when the person drove past a barricade near Carolina Drive and was swept away into a creek.
“This is a very, very serious and deadly storm,” McCrory said at a news conference Saturday.
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The seriousness of the storm was felt in Fayetteville, where a record 13.92 inches of rain fell between midnight and 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The rain saturated an area that had received heavy amounts of rain just a week earlier.
Fayetteville emergency management officials declared the flooding situation “critical and life threatening,” with 77 requests for water rescues by Saturday night. Streets were flooding faster than crews could block the roads.
Mayor Nat Robertson issued a curfew for the town from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
The combination of the prior rain, the existing weather conditions in the area and the coming of Matthew made for a “once in a 500 year event” for Fayetteville, according to Jonathan Blaes, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Raleigh.
Flooding was also an issue in the Triangle, where 6.21 inches of rain was reported at Raleigh-Durham International Airport between midnight and 7:12 p.m. Saturday. At 3:51 p.m., the National Weather Service issued a warning of “life-threatening weather conditions” across Wake, Johnston and Wayne counties. Durham, Johnston and Wake counties are under a flash flood warning until 1:45 a.m. Sunday.
“We did expect it to be a nasty, rain-filled day,” Blaes said.
Heavy rain filled creeks and streams, and the weather service warned about Crabtree Creek in Raleigh, which was in major flood stage at Wake Forest Road and moderate flood stage at Glenwood Avenue and Anderson Drive. Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh closed at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The weather service reported that major to near all-time record flooding is expected along the Neuse River at Clayton and Smithfield. The Neuse River at Goldsboro is forecast to exceed the record flooding from Hurricane Floyd by more than two feet.
Concerns over flash floods led Durham County to declare a state of emergency.
The Chapel Hill Fire Department evacuated about a dozen residents from the South Estes public housing community, Brookwood Condominiums and Camelot Village.
Chapel Hill Public Works crews spent the day erecting barricades in flooded areas, setting up generators at traffic lights without power, removing fallen trees from roadways and clearing debris from drainage areas.
Hillsborough emergency officials reported rescuing one person from the Riverwalk area at Nash and Kollock streets late Saturday afternoon.
Another water rescue was reported around 5 p.m. at Camelot Village on South Estes Drive in Chapel Hill.
With heavy rain expected to continue all day, McCrory urged North Carolinians from Raleigh to the coast to stay off the roads for the rest of Saturday.
“Bunker up because at this point in time there are deadly conditions from Raleigh east,” McCrory said in his news conference.
Wake County opened an emergency shelter at Southeast Raleigh High School, 2600 Rock Quarry Road in Raleigh. Chapel Hill opened a shelter at Smith Middle School, 9201 Seawell School Road.
Durham opened a shelter at Hillside High School at 3727 Fayetteville St. in Durham.
Johnston County opened four emergency shelters:
▪ Benson Conference Center at Town Hall, 303 E. Church St. in Benson;
▪ Kenly Fire Department at 101 W. First St. in Kenly;
▪ Princeton High School at 101 Dr. Donnie H. Jones Jr. Blvd. in Princeton;
▪ Smithfield-Selma High School at 700 Booker Dairy Road in Smithfield.
Numerous roads were reported closed around the Triangle and the state, including sections of Interstate 40 and Interstate 95 in Johnston County. Wake County reported at 7:23 p.m. that several hundred roads are closed or impassable.
As of 6 p.m., state emergency management officials reported 457,525 power outages in North Carolina.
Matthew was a post-tropical cyclone with sustained winds of near 75 mph at 5 a.m. Sunday. The center of circulation was east of the Outer Banks, and moving east at 14 mph. Matthew was expected to continue in that direction Sunday, away from the US mainland.
As with Hurricane Floyd, some of the worst flooding may occur days after the storm. The National Weather Service doesn’t expect the Northeast Cape Fear River to crest at Burgaw until midday Tuesday at more than 21 feet, just shy of a record, and the Neuse River will hit peak flood at Goldsboro at midweek.
“We are expecting extreme rainfall leading to life-threatening flooding across Eastern North Carolina during the next 24 hours, and maybe even longer as we see some rivers crest in the next coming days,” McCrory said.
There’s also an increased threat of tornadoes over the next 48 hours, particularly in Eastern North Carolina, the governor said.
The heavy rains could cause significant damage to the state’s agricultural industry, destroying millions of dollars worth of crops such as peanuts, cotton and sweet potatoes.
“That’s a lot of people’s livelihoods in Eastern North Carolina,” McCrory said.
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 nonresidents to leave as well.
Ferry service between Ocracoke and Hatteras islands was suspended at 8 a.m. Saturday and will not resume until after the storm, according to the state Department of Transportation. The Pamlico Sound ferries to Ocracoke made their last runs Friday. All other ferries are also suspended.
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 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.
President Barack 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.
Staff writers Martha Quillin, John Murawski, Anne Blythe, Tammy Grubb and Thad Ogburn contributed.