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3 dead in N.C. as Matthew’s coastal fury spreads inland

Three people died in Eastern North Carolina on Saturday as dangerous flooding and gusty winds from Hurricane Matthew spread inland after the ferocious storm pummeled South Carolina’s coast.

Flash flood watches issued as far north as Mecklenburg County. Nearly 9,000 Duke Energy customers in the county were without power at midafternoon.

One person died in Sampson County near Fayetteville after their vehicle hydroplaned, and two people died in Bladen County when their car became submerged, Gov. Pat McCrory said at a press briefing on Saturday afternoon.

“I need to wake everyone up here,” McCrory said. “If you are driving from Raleigh east, we do not want you to be driving.”

In Charlotte, firefighters rescued a person after a tree fell onto a home on Chiswick Court, off Rea Road in south Charlotte. The extent of the person’s injuries was unknown.

The storm made landfall near Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, southeast of McClellanville, S.C., with serious flooding unfolding, the National Hurricane Center reported. McClellanville is a small fishing town in Charleston County.

As of 2 p.m., Matthew – by some measures the most powerful hurricane to menace the U.S. in more than a decade – was just barely a hurricane, with winds of 75 mph, and was hitting Myrtle Beach and Wilmington. Its winds were down from 145 mph when it roared into Haiti.

From there, the storm was expected to veer out to sea and loop back around through the Bahamas and toward Florida, though as a barely noticeable wave.

Eastern North Carolina, east of Interstate 95, can expect 10 to 15 inches of rain from the storm, McCrory said.

McCrory said he was concerned that people would “let up their guard” because Matthew was downgraded to a Category 1 storm Saturday morning. But the prospect of life-threatening floods will continue throughout the day, he said.

“I cannot stress enough the intensity of this storm,” McCrory said.

By early Saturday afternoon, 9.92 inches of rain had fallen since midnight at Fayetteville Regional Airport. That included 5.36 inches in just 2 1/2 hours Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service reported..

With 2 to 4 inches of rain expected through late Saturday, Mecklenburg, Cabarrus and Union counties and the S.C. counties of York and Chester are under a flood watch until 6 a.m. Sunday. A wind advisory is in effect until 2 a.m. Sunday for the Charlotte area.

The Charlotte region could see showers until 5 p.m. Saturday and gusts of up to 34 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The chance of rain is 90 percent throughout the day, dropping to 30 percent by Saturday evening. At 1 p.m., weather radar showed heavy rain pushing east of Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte Motor Speedway postponed Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 race to noon Sunday, followed by the Xfinity Series Drive for the Cure 300 that was originally scheduled for Friday night.

Pockets of heavy rain from Matthew began pivoting from east to west into the Charlotte metro area shortly after sunrise. Rain fell at a rate of about 1 inch per hour in the heavier bands. No flooding was reported.

By late Saturday morning, 24-hour rainfall in Mecklenburg County totaled 3.44 inches at Elon Homes in Ballantyne, 2.82 inches in downtown Matthews, 2.76 inches at the state Department of Transportation office on U.S. 74 at I-485 and 1.74 inches at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

The National Weather Service’s short-range computer models predicted the heavier rain would exit the Charlotte area, to the east, around 1 or 2 p.m.

By Saturday afternoon, Duke Energy reported 137,000 outages across the Carolinas. Mecklenburg had the most outages in the immediate Charlotte area.

On the coast, the state suspended ferry service on the Hatteras Inlet route after an 8 a.m. departure from Ocracoke to Hatteras. Ferries evacuated 1,362 people from Ocracoke.

Staff Writer Ann Doss Helms, correspondent Steve Lyttle. The (Columbia) State and The Associated Press contributed.

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