Hurricane Matthew unleashed his fury on the Grand Strand as it stormed past Myrtle Beach early Saturday afternoon, dumping more than a foot of rain, dragging down piers and toppling trees.
The storm whipped the area as a Category 1 hurricane with lashing winds up to 75 mph as it went by about 1:30 p.m., tightly hugging the coast. Matthew also mixed with the high tide as he went by, creating a dangerous storm surge cocktail.
“I think that what’s important to learn is that even though this went by the Grand Strand as a Category 1, it still generated a high level of impacts,” said Steve Pfaff, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, N.C.
Doppler Radar rainfall estimates showed Matthew poured 12 to 15 inches of rain on Horry County and parts of Georgetown County by Saturday afternoon as more rain continued to fall.
Weather authorities and officials warned of potentially life-threatening flash flooding conditions as Horry, Georgetown and neighboring coastal counties remained under a hurricane warning into Saturday night as Matthew’s backside continued to impact the area with wind gusts in the 40 to 50 mph range inland.
S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said during her afternoon news conference a 74 mph gust was recorded Saturday at the Myrtle Beach International Airport.
“This is a very dangerous situation,” Pfaff said. “During the historic flooding that occurred last year, there were many instances where people took needless risks driving across roads which were flooded. In some cases the roads collapsed immediately after vehicles drove across them. They were extremely lucky.”
Haley echoed Pfaff’s sentiments when she warned people to stay out of the water. “Don’t let your kids play in it, don’t walk in it,” she said.
An estimated eight feet of storm surge washed ashore along the coastal Grand Strand. The gauge tracking the amount of surge was destroyed when Matthew pulled down the Springmaid Pier, so weather officials didn’t know just how high the surge reached.
Area rivers were expected to reach moderate and major flood levels, with the Waccamaw River in Conway forecast to reach more than 16 feet by Monday and crest at 16.5 feet later in the week, which is higher than the 16.2 crest reported in last year’s historic flood.
“This takes us back to the flood conversations we had last year,” Haley said.
Before punching the Grand Strand, the storm made landfall just southeast of McClellanville. After hitting South Carolina’s northeast coast, the storm continued its track toward southeast North Carolina where hurricane warnings were in place.
The storm was expected to make its big turn out to sea south of Cape Fear, N.C.
Curfews were enacted for Myrtle Beach, Aynor, Surfside Beach and Georgetown County.
Myrtle Beach city officials asked that residents stay indoors from 6 p.m. Saturday until 6 a.m. Sunday, and asked for people not to attempt re-entry into the city until noon Sunday.
“We need time to assess the damage, especially along the oceanfront, and make things safe for the public,” City Manager John Pedersen said in a news release.
Aynor put a curfew in effect from 7 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday, and Georgetown County enacted one from 8 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. Sunday.
Surfside Beach enacted its curfew at 7 p.m. Saturday to 7 a.m. Sunday with police planning to strictly enforce it to protect people and property, according to Rodney Keziah, Chief of Surfside police.
Nearly 100 Horry County roads either closed or were impassable by Saturday afternoon as conditions continued to cause impacts, Bouricer said.
Additionally, all flights at the Myrtle Beach International Airport were canceled Saturday with flights expected to resume after 10 a.m. Sunday. Travelers were encouraged to check their flight status with their airline.
Four of the county’s eight piers suffered damage from Matthew’s battering waves. The Surfside Pier in Surfside Beach, the Apache Pier in North Myrtle Beach and the more-than half-a-century-old 2nd Avenue Pier also were impacted by the storm.
Widespread power outages plagued Horry, Georgetown and many surrounding counties with reportedly near 60,000 customers left in the dark.
Police scanners loudly erupted with frantic calls of downed trees bursting into homes, barring roads and igniting sparks on powerlines.
No deaths were reported with the storm in Horry and Georgetown counties as of Saturday afternoon.
The storm ravaged the Caribbean, leaving hundreds dead in its wake.
The hurricane was blamed for at least 10 deaths in the U.S., including a 68-year-old Georgia man who died when two trees fell on his home, according to The Associated Press.