Matthew swamps North Carolina before turning out to sea

By Colleen Jenkins. WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) – Emergency crews in boats rescued hundreds of people from floodwaters and plucked others from rooftops by helicopter in North Carolina after former hurricane Matthew flooded much of the U.S. Southeast before weakening on Sunday and turning out to sea.

An airplane lies upside down at the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Ormond Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack
An airplane lies upside down at the Ormond Beach Municipal Airport in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Ormond Beach, Florida, U.S. October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack

Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday after its rampage through the Caribbean killed nearly 900 people in Haiti and at least 16 people in the United States.

Haiti also has suffered from outbreaks of cholera and about 61,500 displaced people were in shelters, officials said. In the United States, more than 2 million U.S. homes and business had lost power.

The storm was moving east-northeast out to sea, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. (1500 GMT) report, which placed the centre of the storm 100 miles (160 km) off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Its maximum sustained winds blew at 75 mph (120 kph), down from 130 mph (210 kph) at full strength.

Officials said many coastal and inland communities were still under water, either from coastal storm surge or overrun rivers and creeks, and dangerous conditions existed from downed power lines and damaged homes.

U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia and Florida, freeing up federal money to help the states repair damaged infrastructure and remove debris. North Carolina and South Carolina also could be in line for aid.

In North Carolina, where at least seven people died, Governor Pat McCrory warned flooding would be a “prolonged event” and pleaded for outside help, asking the country not to be too distracted by the U.S. presidential campaign, currently transfixed by a 2005 video of Republican nominee Donald Trump making vulgar comments about women.

“I realize political talk is dominating the airwaves on a lot of the other national channels but I want to let the rest of the nation know we need your help,” McCrory said.

Florida reported five storm-related deaths, Georgia three and South Carolina one. Flooding required 877 water rescues, including more than 500 in North Carolina’s inland Cumberland County, McCrory said.

The governor said officials were looking for new rescue personnel to relieve the 334 federal, state and local responders who had been working through the night.

“Special swift-water teams from throughout the state and out of the state are right now as we speak rescuing people from their homes, risking their lives,” McCrory said at a Sunday morning news conference. “These rescue teams, I’ve got to let you know, they are extremely exhausted at this time.”

McCrory said he saw video of the Coast Guard rescuing several people from a roof by helicopter.

“I hope that dog survives, too,” he said, reporting at least one other helicopter rescue where boats could not reach the home.

Matthew continued to threaten coastal communities in North Carolina and Virginia, where flash flood warnings were in effect. Forecasters said 20 inches (50 cm) was expected to fall in some areas along with storm surges and high tides. Virginia Beach spokeswoman Erin Sutton told the Weather Channel said almost every road in her city was impassable.

News video from across the region showed motorists and passengers standing on vehicles stuck in rushing flood waters as crews used swift water boats to rescue the stranded.

Matthew, which days ago briefly topped out as a ferocious Category 5 storm, made U.S. landfall on Saturday near McClellanville, South Carolina, a village 30 miles (48 km) north of Charleston that was devastated by a Category 4 hurricane in 1989.

The storm-stricken stretch of the Atlantic Coast from Miami to Charleston, a nearly 600-mile (1,000-km) drive, encompasses some of the most well-known beaches, resorts and historical towns in the southeastern United States.

(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C., Scott Malone in Savannah, Ga., Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Zachary Goelman in Orlando, Fla.; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trot)

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