MIAMI (AP) – Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg says that although the city that draws millions of tourists a year is known widely for its hospitality, he wants everyone to leave town as Hurricane Matthew approaches.
City officials warn that the heavy rains and storm surge from Matthew could combine to cause flooding worse than the floods the city saw a year ago.
During a news conference Thursday afternoon, Tecklenburg asked residents to pack up what they need, secure their property and get out of town.
City officials say that the first rains from the storm are expected to move in late Friday and conditions will deteriorate into Saturday.
Police Chief Greg Mullen warns that at the height of the storm, police and emergency personnel will be pulled off the streets and there won’t be the usual rapid response to 911 calls.
The National Weather Service is posting flash-flood watches for the entire South Carolina coast and warning that the combination of storm surge and rains from Hurricane Matthew could cause worse flooding in downtown Charleston than the October storm of a year ago.
During the October 2015 flooding, the city was closed for several days.
Forecasters are posting flash-flood watches on the coast from Friday morning through Saturday night.
An advisory warns that 8 to 14 inches of rain are expected with locally higher amounts. It said residents should be prepared for the possibility of widespread street flooding and property damage on the Charleston peninsula.
Forecasters say the storm could bring severe flooding even though the center of Matthew is expected to stay offshore.
President Barack Obama declared an emergency in the state of Florida and has ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local response efforts to Hurricane Matthew.
Obama’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by the hurricane. The directive applies to more than two dozen counties in Florida.
Emergency declarations are designed to help provide emergency services to protect lives and property, and to lessen the threat of a catastrophe.
Airlines are canceling hundreds of flights as Hurricane Matthew pelts the Florida coast with high winds and heavy rain.
The Fort Lauderdale airport shut down on Thursday morning, and farther north the Orlando airport expected to do the same by nighttime.
Before 2 p.m. Eastern time, flight-tracking service FlightAware.com reported that 1,500 Thursday flights within the U.S. had been scrapped, with the largest numbers at Fort Lauderdale and Miami. American Airlines, which has a major hub in Miami, was the hardest-hit carrier, followed by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.
FlightAware said airlines had already canceled 1,300 more flights scheduled for Friday. Delta Air Lines said cancellations were likely to spread to coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday.
Airlines often cancel flights before storms hit to prevent passengers from being stranded at airports and to keep their planes in position to recover after the bad weather passes.