Weather authorities and officials began banging the drum for potentially life-threatening issues Friday as new forecasts showed Hurricane Matthew could ride closer and higher up the South Carolina coast before turning out to sea.
At 11 a.m. Friday, a hurricane warning was issued for Horry, Georgetown, Brunswick, N.C., Pender, N.C., New Hanover, N.C. counties.
Tropical storm warnings remained in effect for Robeson County, N.C., Bladen, N.C., Columbus County, N.C., Marlboro, Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Marion, and Williamsburg.
“There is nothing safe about what’s getting ready to happen,” said Gov. Nikki Haley at a Friday news conference as she passionately pleaded for those remaining in evacuation zones to flee before the storm arrived.
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Rain drenched the Grand Strand early Friday morning ahead of the storm, which was forecast to arrive Friday night.
“Hurricane Matthew’s closest approach to northeast S.C. is Saturday afternoon, and southeast N.C. is Saturday evening,” said Steve Pfaff, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C., in a Friday threat assessment.
The storm is expected to downgrade to a Category 2 as it travels along the S.C. coast, passing south of Cape Fear, N.C. as a Category 1 hurricane, Pfaff said.
Officials are concerned about the storm’s lashing, strong winds, flash flooding from heavy rapid rain and potentially deadly storm surge.
“Winds will begin increasing Friday night across coastal northeast S.C. and on Saturday for farther inland S.C. areas and southeast N.C. During Saturday, the wind will continue to increase to 40 to 50 mph with gusts over 60 mph, strongest near the coast,” said Pfaff in the assessment.
Gusty wind could topple trees and cause power outages, especially given the current saturated ground conditions from recent heavy rains.
Damaging storm surge could also bring damaging and deadly issues with any coastal inundation most likely to be highest with high tide Friday night and especially early Saturday afternoon, Pfaff said.
“For western Brunswick, Horry, and Georgetown County surge above ground level may be 4 to 6 feet above ground level along the ocean front, tidal areas, creeks, swashes, and areas along Winyah Bay and adjoining rivers feeding into the bay,” he said.
Flash flooding likely will occur during the storm from rapid, heavy rainfall as a projected 12 to 14 inches or more is expected.
“Heavy rain is possible with an increasing potential for flash flooding, especially Saturday and Saturday night,” Pfaff said.
Roads washouts, power outages and debris could pose dangerous conditions, officials warned.
Area rivers will also be impacted.
The Waccamaw River gauge operated by the National Weather Service at Conway says that waterway will reach flood stage at 11 feet after midnight Saturday and rise quickly past the moderate flood stage by mid-Sunday to 13.5 feet.
Zone A for Horry and Georgetown counties began at noon Thursday.
By roughly noon Friday, about 90 percent of the people in the more vulnerable and flood-prone areas of Garden City and Cherry Grove within Zone A had fled, but about 50 percent elsewhere in the zone remained, according to Lisa Bourcier, Horry County spokeswoman.
Shelters housed 285 occupants as of noon Friday in Horry County. Instead of 14 shelters, seven will be operational during the storm in Horry County and more can open if needed, Bourcier said.
Hurricane Matthew had shrunk from a Category 4 to a Category 3 as it pounded Florida on Friday, moving at about 12 mph with 115 mph as it continued to roll northward.
The death toll in Haiti climbed to around 500 on Friday.
After slicing through Haiti and Cuba, Hurricane Matthew pounded the Bahamas on Thursday, but no fatalities were reported there. Four people died in the neighboring Dominican Republic on Tuesday.
Most of the deaths in Haiti were in towns and fishing villages around the southern coast, with many killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.