Parts of historic Market Street were under a foot of water and gusting winds blew rain sideways Thursday as Hurricane Dorian continued its unrelenting advance on the U.S. coast, days after devastating parts of the Bahamas.
Hundreds of thousands of coastal residents of the Carolinas were packing up to flee their homes or were already gone. More than 220,000 homes and businesses across the state already were without power.
The historic storm, which dropped slightly to Category 2 status, was about 65 miles southeast of here at 11 a.m. ET Thursday with maximum sustained winds at 110 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
"It is the water that kills people," Gov. Henry McMaster said. "Water is the real danger. And it's clear that we are going to have a lot of water."
The center warned the storm "continues to lash the coast of the Carolinas" and hurricane conditions are likely over portions of the area later Thursday. The center of the storm was forecast to move closer to the coast of South Carolina through the day and then move near or over the coast of North Carolina overnight and Friday.
Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Charleston was experiencing wind gusts in excess of 60 mph. Similar gusts were recorded elsewhere in the state and in North Carolina, the hurricane center said.
Hurricane-force winds were extending outward up to 60 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 195 miles.
"People have to realize it's not just about the center" of the storm, Graham said. "You have to look at the whole storm."
Graham said Charleston could face "very dangerous" storm surge of up to 4 feet. Parts of North Carolina could see 7 feet, he said. Anything above 3 feet is considered life-threatening, according to the hurricane center.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said the state had opened more than 50 shelters and prepped more than 20 swift water rescue teams. Sixteen aircraft were also at the ready.
"You certainly put first responders at risk and your own life at risk if you decided to stay, particularly on a barrier island," Cooper said. "If they have not evacuated at this point, I'd get to the safest place I possibly could."
Cooper said an 85-year-old man fell to his death from a ladder while preparing his Columbus County home for the storm. At least 20 deaths in the Bahamas have been linked to Dorian.
Federal emergency declarations have been approved for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In Virginia, where some areas could see 4 feet of surge, Gov. Ralph Northam also declared an emergency.
In Charleston, at the corner of Calhoun and Washington streets near the state aquarium, John Rivers and daughters, Martha and Caroline, and son, Minott, were raking tree debris out of storm drains.
"The city is doing the best job they can, but they can't be everywhere at every drain, so we're helping them out," Rivers said as the winds and rain carried debris down the street.
Within minutes, a pool of stormwater that stretched across Washington Street was drained away.
"It's a teachable moment for them, and they're also very civic minded," said Rivers. "My family has been here since 1670, so it's time for us to pitch in."
On North Carolina's Outer Banks, Derek Bellinger and his family were taking a walk in Kitty Hawk, which was under a mandatory evacuation order. Bellinger said they had stockpiled four cases of water, enough food to fill a freezer and 25 gallons of gas to power a generator. But he said they were not leaving — and he was not too worried about Dorian.
"We've done our prep and have been here through many, many storms," Bellinger said. "We're just kind of hunkered down."
Copyright 2019 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. From https://www.usatoday.com. By John Bacon and Eric Connor.