“Weakened Hurricane Matthew hits South Carolina”

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CHARLESTON/SAVANNAH – Hurricane Matthew slammed into South Carolina on Saturday, packing a diminished yet still powerful punch after killing almost 900 people in Haiti and causing major flooding and widespread power outages as it skirted Florida and Georgia.

Now weakened, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007 left flooding and wind damage in Florida before moving slowly north to soak coastal Georgia and the Carolinas. Wind speeds had fallen by nearly half from their peak about a week ago to 75 miles per hour, reducing the storm to a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5.

Matthew, which topped out as a ferocious Category 5 storm more than a week ago, made U.S. landfall near McClellanville, South Carolina, a village 30 miles north of Charleston that was devastated by a Category 4 hurricane in 1989.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Matthew was passing over Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Saturday afternoon, and warned of potentially life-threatening flooding in Georgia and North Carolina even as the storm slowed as it ploughed inland.

The storm has been blamed for at least 11 deaths in the United States – five in Florida, three in North Carolina and three in Georgia, including two people killed by falling trees in Bulloch County, the county coroner said.

The storm knocked out power to nearly 1.6 million households and businesses in the U.S. Southeast, the majority of them in Florida.

The stretch of the Atlantic Coast from Miami to Charleston, a nearly 600-mile drive, encompasses some of the most well-known beaches, resorts and historical towns in the southeastern United States. Parts of Interstate 95, the main north-south thoroughfare on the East Coast, were closed due to flooding and fallen trees, state officials said.

In Florida, almost 879 000 were without power, according to state utilities, while in South Carolina 433 000 had no electricity, Governor Nikki Haley said. Georgia Power said at least 275 000 were without electricity in the state.

Roads in Jackson Beach, Florida, were littered with debris, including chunks from an historic pier dislodged by the storm, with some intersections clogged by up to a foot of standing water. Beachfront businesses suffered moderate damage. (Reuters)