Hurricane Matthew’s torrential rains triggered severe flooding in North Carolina today as the deteriorating storm made its exit to the sea, and thousands of people had to be rescued from their homes and cars. The death toll in the US climbed to at least 16, nearly half of them in North Carolina.
The storm, which killed more than 500 in Haiti before it pounded the East Coast for days, was stripped of hurricane status just before daybreak, but the crisis set off by downpours of more than a foot was far from over.
“As the sun rises in North Carolina and the blue sky returns, our state is facing major destruction and, sadly, loss of life,” Gov. Pat McCrory said as the effects of yesterday’s deluge became clearer at daylight.
Rivers and creeks overflowed, driving people from their homes and trapping others as much as 100 miles inland. The unofficial rainfall totals were staggering: 18 inches in Wilmington, 14 inches in Fayetteville and 8 inches in Raleigh. McCrory said police and emergency crews had made more than 880 water rescues. In the Fayetteville area alone, rescue crews saved nearly 600 people from the rapidly rising floodwaters, officials said.
The governor said that four people were missing in the Fayetteville area and that the full scale of the disaster was not yet known because the flooding continued overnight and there were many places that search teams had not yet reached.
“There could be some backroads where we had people swept away. I’m praying that is not going to be,” McCrory said. Most of the deaths happened when vehicles were swept away by floodwaters.
About 100 guests and workers had to be evacuated from a Comfort Inn motel in the North Carolina coastal town of Southport after the hurricane cracked a wall and left the roof in danger of collapse, authorities said. And dramatic video showed Fayetteville police rescuing a woman and her small child from their car as rising waters swallowed it.
Shortly before daybreak, the hurricane was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 100 miles east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, moving out to sea. It still had hurricane-force winds of 75 mph.
Forecasters said North Carolina and Virginia could get even more rain and warned of the danger of life-threatening flooding through Monday night.
“Stay home. Most of your church services have been cancelled. There’s no reason to go out. Take the day off,” Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson said.