Matthew, now a post-tropical cyclone, was to begin its slow exit overnight Sunday off the East Coast, but the danger isn't over.
The death toll has increased to eight in North Carolina and five people are missing, Gov. Pat McCrory said late Sunday afternoon. Overall, the death toll across the Southeast from the storm is 17, according to the Associated Press.
McCrory warned that the storm is still a threat because massive rains aren’t expected to peak in rivers for another day or two. Rainfall totaled 16 inches in Tar Heel, 15 in Goldsboro, 12 in Fayetteville, 9 in Raleigh and 6 in Wilmington, he said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s house was “completely destroyed,” McCrory said.
“This is still an extremely dangerous situation,” McCrory said. “We will not see the rivers peak possibly until Monday and Tuesday. Our models show very, very dangerous conditions as those rivers go over their edges.”
Already 887 people have been rescued from floodwaters and crews are "extremely exhausted," he said. In one case, police and National Guard members searched for a nurse who went missing overnight after her shift and found her clinging to a tree above floodwaters, he said.
“Can you imagine clinging to a tree overnight?" McCrory asked. “I’m sure as the daylight comes, we’re going to see people trapped.
More than 200 people were rescued from the Pinetops section of Rocky Mount, including eight people plucked from rooftops by a Coast Guard helicopter. The MH-60 Jayhawk air crew carried the residents to Pitt Greenville Airport. Lt. Cmdr. Scott Koser, assistant operations officer at Air Station Elizabeth City, said crews are standing by to help more.
The Coast Guard also rescued two people Saturday night after their vessel ran aground near Shallotte, N.C. The two were stranded on a marshy island in the Lockwood Folly River after their fishing boat Kokopia ran aground about 8 p.m. with about 300 gallons of diesel fuel aboard. An MH-60 Jayhawk launched about 10 p.m. from Air Station Savannah in Georgia and picked the people up about midnight.
Power is out for about 760,000 North Carolinians, largely in the eastern part of the state. Many roads are closed, including four sections of Interstate 95, a major north-south artery in the state.
"We'd prefer you not go out at this time," McCrory said of state residents in storm zones.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency urged residents returning home or in affected areas to listen to state, local and tribal officials to avoid dangerous flooding in Matthew’s aftermath for the next 48 hours. The agency warned that floodwater could be charged by downed power lines or could hide dangerous debris. Moving water just 6 inches deep could knock down a person, and fast-moving water could sweep away a car, the agency said.
“Flash floods are the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “As people head back home to assess damage it is vital they do not drive through flooded roadways, avoid downed power lines and stay off the roads to let first responders do their work. Turn around, don’t drown.”
In Chapel Hill, for example, public safety officials urged residents to be aware of safety issues despite beautiful fall weather. Gusty winds could knock down trees, and downed power lines and high-water areas remain a threat. Generators and stop signs were placed at numerous intersections where traffic lights lacked power.
“The cleanup from Hurricane Matthew is just beginning,” Public Works Director Lance Norris said. “Trees, debris, effects from high water – these will be assessed and addressed today – and in the week ahead.”
By 2 p.m. Sunday, the storm center was about 150 miles east of Cape Hatteras, N.C., moving east at 15 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It had sustained winds of up to 75 mph and some higher gusts.
Matthew officially made landfall Saturday morning 40 miles northeast of Charleston, S.C., the first hurricane to make landfall in the state since Gaston in 2004. Charleston was spared from the worst as Matthew dropped to a Category 1, but the historic port city still faced a 6-foot storm surge, severe flooding and fallen trees downtown.
Residents of McClellanville, where Hurricane Hugo made landfall in 1989, counted their blessings Sunday, the day after Matthew made landfall. Matthew tore down trees and left the town without power but residents awoke to sunny skies and the lack of structural damage.
"I'm just rolled over tickled," said Ricky Thomas, who found no damage to his home when he returned Sunday.
Richard Billington and his wife, Celeste, had only planned to visit Billington's docked shrimp boat, Village Lady, for coffee and breakfast and then realized the hurricane was upon them and rode it out. "It was scary," she said.
Mayor Rutledge Leland said overall the town fared well. "This was nothing compared to Hugo," he said of the storm that delivered a 20-foot storm surge. "Hugo was a whole different animal."
Isle of Palm residents returned Sunday pleasantly surprised to find little storm damage. Some yards flooded and the beach suffered erosion, but the structures appeared unharmed.
The storm left an unusual treasure trove of shells and hundreds of starfish washed on to the beach.
"I've never seen shells like this before," said Michael Enright as he watched his wife Gami and his 10-year-old daughter Talula pick up shells.
Talula tossed a starfish into the ocean in hopes of saving it. "We got lucky, I think," the father said of the little damage to the community.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Sunday evacuation orders have been lifted for all residents in Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley and Colleton counties. But she said evacuation orders for zones in Beaufort, Georgetown, Horry and Jasper counties remained in effect as local law enforcement and officials continue to assess areas for potential dangers.
By noon Sunday, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. was working to restore 178,884 outages, after restoring power to 100,000 during the first 18 hours of the storm.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said the federal government approved part of his request for disaster relief for debris and emergency protective measures. But he said individual assistance and permanent repairs to government buildings, roads and parks hasn’t yet been approved.
“While we are blessed that Hurricane Matthew did not make landfall in Florida, there has been significant damage all across Florida’s east coast,” Scott said. “While the state is helping our communities any way we can, I am going to continue to fight for every available resource from the federal government so our families and businesses can rebuild and get back to normal.”
Contributing: Steph Solis, of USA TODAY, reported from McLean, Va.; Tim Smith, of The Greenville News, is reporting from Charleston, S.C.