7 a.m. update
Beaufort County awoke in the dark Saturday morning as Hurricane Matthew continues to batter the Lowcountry.
About 80,000 people are without power, according to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Capt. Bob Bromage. And preliminary reports indicate there is “significant” damage throughout the county.
The Emergency Operations Center in Beaufortfielded calls for downed trees and power lines, Bromage said, and there were three structure fires in the northern part of the county.
“We can’t attribute any injuries to the storm at this time,” Bromage said.
Storm surge damage is unclear at this point, Bromage said. The darkness and weather conditions mean there are not currently boots on the ground to assess it.
Bromage said daylight and calls from the public would begin to help law enforcement, firefighters and other safety personnel better assess the damage.
“We need to hear from the public to get the complete picture,” he said, adding that he hoped people continued to stay inside and stay safe.
At around 6:15 a.m. the winds were howling loud enough to drown out the roar of a nearby generator.
There were limbs and debris strewn about the sheriff’s office parking lot, and sheets of rain blew down Ribaut Road.
Blue flashes lit up the sky as nearby transformers blew out and, in the distance, the muffled pops of either limbs or trees coming down were audible.
12 a.m. update
Beaufort County Emergency Management Director Lt. Col. Neil Baxley said things are “going as well as can be expected.”
He stood outside the Emergency Operations Center on the second floor of the sheriff’s office building in Beaufort just after 11 p.m. Friday night. Behind him and down a hallway, a group of about 40 people representing various agencies monitored Hurricane Matthew and assessed its effects on the county.
“Just a handful of 911 calls,” Baxley said, adding there was an ongoing structure fire in Colonial Heights in Burton.
“We are having a lot of activated alarms,” he said, “probably all weather related.”
There are currently about 15,000 power outages in the county he said, adding that number is expected to increase.
When Matthew passes, clearing the roadways, setting up security checkpoints and reopening the county’s emergency rooms are the top priority, he said.
When residents can return to the county, they should expect to find a lot of downed trees and be without electricity, he said.
At this point, it’s too early to determine when people will be allowed to return — the amount of storm damage and the time it takes work crews and safety personnel to address it has yet to be determined.
“We haven’t seen the worst of the storm yet,” he said. “It’s still south of us. Conditions are going to continue to deteriorate.”
9:30 p.m. update
The power has gone out five times at the Beaufort County Sheriff’s office, but it has quickly come back on each time.
The outages started around 7:15 p.m. and happened sporadically.
There are currently almost 12,000 customers without power in the county, according to South Carolina Electric & Gas’ website. That’s up from around 3,000 a couple hours earlier.
The wind and the rain have picked up in Beaufort. There’s currently a 39 mile per hour wind at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, according the National Weather Service’s Charleston station.
Winds Friday night into Saturday morning are expected to range between 45 and 65 miles per hour, with gusts as high as 80 miles per hour, according to the weather service. An additional four inches of rainfall is possible.
Law enforcement and first responders are hunkered down, awaiting the worst of the storm, which is expected to impact the area closer to midnight.
5 p.m. update
The Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Operations Center is “busy,” ahead of Hurricane Matthew’s arrival, according to Capt. Bob Bromage, but the Beaufort area is otherwise quiet.
“People have settled in where they’re at,” Bromage said.
There have been a few “calls for service,” but “very few at this point.”
On a ride-along with Bromage through Beaufort at about 4 p.m. Friday, the rain was steady and the occasional gust of wind picked up. A few palm fronds were in the streets. Practically the only traffic on the road was police and safety vehicles.
The radio in Bromage’s car, tuned to Beaufort’s channel, was quiet.
When asked if the county had planned stepped-up patrol to enforce tonight’s curfew, which begins at 7 p.m. and lasts till 7 a.m. Saturday, Bromage said “patrols will be out until it’s unsafe” for them to be — and that’s dependent upon weather conditions. At the moment, there’s a steady law enforcement presence on the streets of Beaufort.
“This is what our officers are doing,” Bromage said as he passed a patrol vehicle on Boundary Street. “Riding around, checking on businesses. Proactive patrols.”
Farther north on that street a man on his cell phone stood out front of Cry Babies bar. Another man smoked a cigarette. The front parking lot was full. The bar’s door was open, and the neon signs were on.
Earlier in the day, Bromage said that while he felt many folks had left early and heeded the evacuation early, it was impossible to tell — without going door-to-door — how many people had stayed to ride out the storm.