Carolinas prepare, keep close watch on Hurricane Matthew

Enhanced infrared imagery shows eye of Hurricane Matthew

The center of the storm was moving over Haiti on Oct. 4, 2016. According to NOAA's National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Matthew made landfall near Les Anglais, Haiti around 7:00 am EDT.
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The center of the storm was moving over Haiti on Oct. 4, 2016. According to NOAA's National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Matthew made landfall near Les Anglais, Haiti around 7:00 am EDT.

Coastal communities in the Carolinas are preparing to evacuate as Hurricane Matthew marches toward the Southeastern Atlantic coast.

The predicted path of the hurricane has shifted west, and the center of the storm is now expected to skirt the coast of the Carolinas as a Category 2 storm on Saturday. But even a small change in the path could cause it to make landfall – or to go farther out to sea.

The National Weather Service expects tropical storm conditions to reach the Carolinas coast Friday night.

Officials in Hyde County on North Carolina’s Outer Banks have ordered the mandatory evacuation of visitors from Ocracoke Island beginning at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Residents and property owners on the island will have an additional 24 hours to make preparations before they, too, will be subject to a mandatory evacuation on Thursday.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced Tuesday that evacuations of an estimated 1 million people will begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday unless the track of the storm changes.

“If you can leave sooner, leave,” she said, adding that people should make sure they have a full tank of gas before they hit the road. During rush hour Tuesday, long lines formed at gas stations in the Charleston area, snarling traffic as lines snaked out into travel lanes. At one gas station in Mount Pleasant, S.C., the line reached about a quarter mile down the street.

Schools are closing for the rest of the week in the southern and eastern half of the state so they can be turned into shelters, and government offices are closing in those same counties to pull traffic off roads needed as evacuation routes.

Haley said state officials would reverse lanes on major evacuation routes in South Carolina. It would be the first major evacuation since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when the governor at the time didn’t reverse the lanes and Interstate 26 became a parking lot. A typically two-hour drive from Charleston to Columbia turned into 24-hour nightmare.

The National Hurricane Center predicts Matthew will have top sustained winds of 105 to 110 mph when it reaches the Carolinas this weekend.

The Charlotte Salvation Army Emergency Disaster Services team has deployed to Georgetown, S.C., in advance of the hurricane.

UNC Wilmington has issued a mandatory campus evacuation for all students by noon Thursday.

Matthew, a Category 4 storm packing winds of 145 mph, pummeled parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday and is expected to head north over Cuba and the Bahamas before nearing the Florida coast by Thursday.

Governors in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Georgia have declared states of emergency, and the White House said President Barack Obama canceled a campaign and health care events in Florida on Wednesday and would instead visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update.

Some airlines let passengers change travel plans without penalty if their trip might be affected by Matthew.

On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in North Carolina, from the coast to west of Winston-Salem.

McCrory urged residents to make sure their home storm kits are fully stocked and that they’ve thought about where they would go if they need to evacuate. The state of emergency also lifts restrictions on weights for trucks carrying crops that are being harvested quickly before the storm.

Social media was full of reports Monday evening of farmers operating harvesting equipment with lights, apparently trying to gather crops before the storm arrives.

Steve Lyttle, staff writer Adam Bell, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The Myrtle Beach Sun-News and The Associated Press contributed.

Rain for Charlotte?

While meteorologists stress that it will be another couple days before they have more confidence in the forecast, some of the computer models are beginning to show possible rainfall totals for the Charlotte area from late Friday to early Saturday. They range from about 1 inch (European model) to more than 4 inches (Global model).

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management said Tuesday morning that it is monitoring the storm and its predicted path.

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