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Hurricane Matthew Makes Landfall In S.C.; 'Serious Inland Flooding' Reported

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Huge bands of rain are seen in this satellite image of Hurricane Matthew just before it made landfall in South Carolina Saturday morning.

Making landfall Saturday, Hurricane Matthew brought floods and strong winds to South Carolina's Lowcountry region, pouring rain into an area that now faces a dangerous storm surge. As of 11 a.m. ET, the storm's center was around 55 miles south-southwest of Myrtle Beach.

The storm made landfall southeast of McClellanville, about 35 miles northeast of Charleston. As it did so, Matthew also brought rains as far away as Virginia and Washington, D.C. — and the National Hurricane Center says that in the worst-hit areas, a "serious inland flooding event" is unfolding.

The good news is that Matthew is weakening: The storm was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane Saturday, and its maximum winds, which had been measured at 140 mph days ago, are now at a still-dangerous 75 mph. The storm is projecting hurricane-force winds 25 miles away from its center.

Despite the welcome news of a weaker hurricane hitting the Atlantic shore, officials are very concerned about perilous flooding along the coast from Georgia to North Carolina. And while the storm surge presents an immediate danger, it will be days before the area's rivers have crested as they handle the rain Matthew is bringing.

From Charleston, South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports for our Newscast unit:

"Rain and wind flooded several roads and made a large section of Interstate 95 is impassable. The National Weather Service is reporting storm surge inundation of more than six feet in Charleston. Authorities are also reporting downed trees.

"Local utility companies say there are downed power lines. Thousands of customers lost power overnight. Some hospitals in the area evacuated patients. Multiple cities and towns imposed curfews overnight to keep people off the streets. More than 1,500 people are in shelters in the Charleston area."

The National Hurricane Center says Matthew is moving toward the northeast at nearly 12 mph — a path that the storm is expected to continue on. But it added that the storm is expected to remain a hurricane through tonight.

"On the forecast track, the center of Matthew will continue to move near or over the coast of South Carolina today, and be near the coast of southern North Carolina by tonight," the agency says.

Governors in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina urged evacuations before this storm arrived; as of last night, S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley said, around 355,000 people had fled South Carolina's coastal areas.

In an update on the storm Saturday, Haley said more than 437,000 power outages have been reported in the state.

Friday night, Haley said 2,500 National Guard members had been activated in an effort to cope with the storm. She also said that while shelters remain open, residents shouldn't try to travel far; most counties along the S.C. coast are already under curfews.

"Really, the best thing now is to just hunker down, stay in a safe place, don't try to move around," Haley said Friday night. "Make sure you have your cell phones charges as best you can, because you don't know when you're going to lose that power."

In Georgia as of Saturday morning, 300,000 customers had reported power outages, NPR's Rae Bichell reports from Savannah, Ga.

As NPR has reported, more than 1 million utility customers in Florida lost power due to Matthew — and the storm is being associated with four deaths: two women who died in separate accidents, and an elderly couple who died from carbon monoxide poisoning while running a generator.

Here's the National Hurricane Center's guidance on storm surge levels along the Atlantic coast:

"The water could reach the following heights above ground if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide:

"Charleston, SC to Cape Fear, NC...5 to 7 ft
"Cape Fear to Duck, NC, including portions of the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds...2 to 4 ft."

Matthew has been dumping rain on the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia for more than 12 hours — and how dangerous the storm surge turns out to be will rely in part on what the tides are doing when the surge is highest. Charleston's low tide came around 7 a.m. Saturday — its high tide will hit just before 2 p.m., and the next low tide will come at 8 p.m.

Fort Pulaski, at the Georgia-South Carolina state line, reported a new record on its tide gauge, at 12.52 feet — breaking the mark set by Hurricane David in 1971.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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