NC's coastal communities prepared even if Matthew doesn't make landfall

Posted October 6, 2016 12:05 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:04 p.m. EDT

— Although Hurricane Matthew is no longer forecast to make landfall in North Carolina, several coastal counties and communities aren't taking any chances and are warning residents to be prepared for heavy rain and strong winds associated with the powerful storm.

New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, along with the Town of Carolina Beach, all declared a state of emergency Thursday morning as the Category 4 storm rakes through the Bahamas and takes aim at Florida.

Matthew once again reached Category 4 strength Thursday morning, and the storm has sustained winds of 140 mph.

It was moving northwest at 14 mph at 5 p.m. and is expected to slam into the southeastern tip of Florida later Thursday before turning north and hugging the East Coast through Friday and Saturday.

The National Weather Service also on Thursday afternoon issued tropical storm warnings for parts of the North Carolina coast from the North Carolina-South Carolina border to Surf City.

Read more about the latest forecast track.

Tropical Storm warnings for Matthew - 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016

Carolina Beach officials said the area could see swells in excess of 10 feet through early next week, and they warned people to stay out of the ocean during the next several days.

New Hanover County Chairman Beth Dawson said the state of emergency declaration is a "precautionary measure that will allow county officials to assess resources immediately if they are needed."

“We encourage citizens to remain vigilant and monitor the storm. While we may not take a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew, flooding, high winds, and the potential for power outages all remain serious concerns," Dawson said in a statement.

Brunswick County officials said a voluntary evacuation will take effect at 8 a.m. Friday for unincorporated low-lying and flood prone areas.

The county will also open shelters at 8 a.m. Friday at West Brunswick High, North Brunswick High and South Brunswick High. Red Cross officials said another shelter will be opening at Burgaw Middle School.

In Pender County, officials issued a voluntary evacuation order and said they will monitor the storm's path to see if that needs to change. Pender County Emergency Management Director Tom Collins said the county uses models that help them know when mandatory evacuations are necessary.

"This is the decision arc," Collins said, pointing to his model software. "When it gets to that point, it tells us that we need to make our decision by Saturday, Oct. 8 at 4:05 a.m."

Collins said popular tourist destinations Surf City and North Topsail Beach are especially prone to flooding.

"The whole island is a tidal surge area," he said.

Collins said officials in Pender County were also in contact with other coastal counties.

"Brunswick, New Hanover, Onslo counties evacuate, that affects us because they have to come through Pender County to get out," Collins said. "We make sure we stagger that out so Interstate 40 doesn't become a parking lot."

Memories of Fran fresh in Wilmington as Matthew approaches

Some residents in Wilmington were boarding up homes and businesses on Thursday, and many of them said memories of Hurricane Fran remain fresh in their minds as Matthew churns in waters to the south.

"It looked like the hands of God just wiped things out," Pat Griffin said of the destruction after Fran.

Griffin had just moved to the Triangle in 1996 when Fran struck the home of his in-laws in Wilmington.

"The big thing was the storm surge. If you looked at the eye, it came pretty much right over the top of his house," Griffin said. Fran destroyed a pier on the family property, and water from the Intercoastal Waterway made it into the bottom floor of the home.

"We found Christmas decorations half a mile up in the weeds, bikes wrapped in ropes and extension cords," Griffin said.

While Matthew's current forecast track means it won't cause Fran-like damage, officials in the area are warning residents to take the storm seriously. Griffin agrees, saying his family is warily watching forecast updates.

"Take them seriously. Heed the warnings," he said. "Whenever he hear of storms, his ears perk up, and I definitely think of cleanups gone by."

Matthew will bring heavy rain, breezy conditions to NC

The National Weather Service in Raleigh said the main impacts on the Tar Heel State will come Friday night through late Saturday, with the worst conditions expected Saturday afternoon and evening.

Coastal counties could see winds between 40 and 60 mph as the storm moves up the coast, with the Triangle likely seeing winds top out around 30 mph.

Rainfall totals will vary widely based on Matthew's final path, but parts of the Triangle could see up to 4 inches of rain by Sunday. Southeastern counties and coastal communities could receive closer to 10 inches of rain.

5 p.m. forecast track for Hurricane Matthew