Hurricane Matthew weakens to Category 1 storm along Carolina coast

CHARLESTON — Hurricane Matthew weakened to a Category 1 storm, but remained a dangerous force Saturday as it lashed Georgia and South Carolina and brought strong winds and flooded streets to historic cities of of Savannah and Charleston.

At 8 am. ET, Matthew was located 20 miles south southeast of Charleston, moving at 12 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its advisory, packing sustained winds of up to 85 mph. The storm is expected to reach southern North Carolina by nightfall.

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At least four people died in Florida and over 1.1 million people were without power. An elderly St. Lucie County couple died from carbon monoxide fumes while running a generator in their garage and two women were killed in separate events when trees fell on a home and a camper.

“Now is the time we ask for prayer,” South Carolina governor. Nikki Haley said as she finished an update on storm preparations Friday and bowed her head.

Strong winds from Matthew's eyewall slammed into downtown Savannah early Saturday, downing trees and sending street signs flying. As the sun began to rise  over the 283-year-old city, floodwaters inched steadily higher. Police reported numerous downed trees and washed out roads.

Further north, in Charleston, the historic downtown area normally abuzz with weekend tourist traffic was eerily quiet as residents and visitors heeded a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew Many stores and shops boarded up with plywood and protected by stacks of sandbags.

“We do not want to deal with individuals who get themselves trapped out in this severe situation,” Chief Greg Mullen said.

The National Weather Service in Charleston reported that the storm surge at low tide had pushed the water level 6 feet higher than normal.

People in coastal areas should stay off the roads because “they will die,” warned Tom Johnson, emergency manager for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

“We are not anticipating going out and clearing any roadways or anything of that matter until at least Sunday morning,” Johnson said.

At least 18 roads in the city of Mt. Pleasant, S.C., are impassable, officials say. Charleston County authorities reported trees and power lines down throughout the county as 1,538 people waited out the storm in shelters.

As of 6 a.m. Saturday, more than 125,000 power outages were reported by utilities operating in the Low Country as a result of Hurricane Matthew. South Carolina Electric & Gas Company reported a total of 105,404 outages statewide, while South Carolina's Berkeley County Electric Cooperative reported 20,114.

Of the 500,000 people instructed to leave low-lying coastal areas, Haley said that more than 300,000 people had pulled out. Many of those who didn't, she said, were on Daniel Island, a 4,000-acre area on the east bank of the Cooper River in Charleston.

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USA TODAY


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