IRMA AFTERMATH: Monster storm to blame for 3 deaths in South Carolina

The latest on Irma from Severe Weather Center 9:

As Irma, now a tropical depression, pushes further away from Charlotte, the weather around Charlotte will start to calm down later Tuesday morning.

A few gusty downpours will stick around to start the day and the winds will continue to gust near 30 mph in some spots. After lunchtime, the rain chances and the winds subside.

[FORECAST: Irma weakens, dumps rain across the Carolinas]

Several school districts, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, operated on a 2-hour delay Tuesday.

Duke Energy reported about 74,000 customers without service early Tuesday. The biggest problems were reported in Buncombe, Mecklenburg and Jackson counties. In Mecklenburg County alone, more than 9,000 outages were reported Tuesday morning.


At least 16,000 other customers had not electricity, most in western North Carolina.

No storm deaths have been reported. No serious injuries had been reported early Tuesday.

Wind gusts of nearly 50 mph were reported.

Gov. Roy Cooper said forestry crews equipped with chain saws and some National Guard soldiers are helping clear roads in parts of western North Carolina affected by the remnants of Hurricane Irma.

Cooper told the Council of State meeting on Tuesday that the forestry and National Guard crews were working mostly in Buncombe, Jackson and Macon counties. Buncombe County includes Asheville.

The governor said the state had five emergency shelters open Monday night and they had about 80 people in them at midnight.

Cooper said two rescue teams have been sent to Florida to help with recovery there.

The governor said it is important for people to pay attention and prepare for storms.


The Blue Ridge Parkway closed Monday afternoon because of high winds, as was Mount Mitchell State Park.

Chimney Rock State Park was also closed Monday afternoon. Officials planned to examine the park Tuesday morning in hopes of opening around 10 a.m.

The biggest concern is that trees will continue to fall because of gusty winds and heavy rain. The fallen trees are causing scattered power outages.

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There were more than 9,000 Duke Energy customers without power in Mecklenburg County, 1,270 in Lancaster County and about 1,790 in York County on Tuesday morning.

Hurricane Jose continues to weaken in the open Atlantic. It is forecast to remain at sea all week and should start to turn north by the weekend. It will likely stay off the coast of the Outer Banks, but rough surf and rip currents will be felt there.

Tropical Storm Irma kills 3 in SC, brings flooding, power outages

While South Carolina avoided Irma's eye, the massive storm caused severe flooding and tropical storm-force winds that left hundreds of thousands without power and killed three people.

Charles Saxon, 57, became South Carolina's first recorded death when he was struck by a tree limb while clearing debris outside his home in Calhoun Falls amid wind gusts of about 40 mph (64 kph), according to a statement from Abbeville County Coroner Ronnie Ashley.

Another man was killed in a wreck on a wet and windy interstate as Irma moved past. Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said 21-year-old Zhen Tain died in the crash on Interstate 77 just east of Columbia.

Sumter County Coroner Robert Baker Jr. said 54-year-old William McBride was pronounced dead Tuesday of carbon monoxide poisoning. Baker said McBride had been running a generator inside his mobile home for at least several hours, with only a single window cracked for ventilation.

Tropical Storm Irma brought wind gusts of up to 72 mph on Folly Beach and Charleston's third-highest-recorded storm surge as the center of the storm moved some 250 miles away through Florida and Georgia.

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The nearly 10 feet (3 meters) of water that pushed a mile inland in Charleston was nearly 4 feet above a typical high tide and surpassed the destructive surge caused by Hurricane Matthew last October. It ranked behind only Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a 1940 hurricane.

Wind gusts over 40 mph moved throughout the state. One of those gusts knocked loose a limb that struck and killed Charles Saxon, 57, as he cleaned up debris outside his Calhoun County home around 3 p.m. Monday, Abbeville County Coroner Ronnie Ashley said.

Public Safety Director Leroy Smith said 21-year-old Zhen Tain died in the crash on Interstate 77 just east of Columbia.

By Tuesday morning, about 220,000 customers lacked power across the state. Flooding and downed trees closed more than 160 roads in 10 counties.

Duke Energy reported the biggest problems with 100,000 customers without service. The biggest problems were in Anderson and Greenville counties.

The South Carolina Electric Cooperatives report that about 63,000 customers are without service. The biggest problems are in Oconee and Charleston counties.

South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. had 58,000 customers without service early Tuesday. The major problems were in Charleston and Beaufort counties.

"There's no need to put yourself or your family or first responders at risk," McMaster said.

Residents of the Charleston peninsula waded in waist-deep waters, and waves finally again reached the iconic graffiti boat near Folly Beach. The boat has been repainted continually since Hurricane Hugo stranded it along the roadside in 1989.

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[HURRICANE IRMA: Live Updates]

The board was repainted last weekend to honor Irma's victims. "Godspeed Florida," it read, The Post and Courier reported. "This too shall pass."

The boat ended up a half-mile away in the marsh against a private dock.

At least seven people had to be rescued in Edisto Beach, a town under evacuation orders about 30 miles down the coast from Charleston.

A family of four "decided all of a sudden they'd leave," Edisto Beach Mayor Jane Darby told The Associated Press.

Their vehicle flooded out on a curve in front of the beach pier, as ocean water poured into the streets. They were among an estimated 70 people that stayed in the town of 530, despite McMaster's order Friday night.

Three media employees also had to be rescued, Darby said.

Edisto Beach was among the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Matthew. Irma washed away dunes restored earlier this year with a $17 million beach restoration project.

"We're under water. We have wires down, trees down. Very little is passable," Darby said, noting the town suspended emergency operations Monday afternoon. "It's too dangerous."

McMaster's order late Friday required people on seven barrier islands, plus Edisto Beach, to begin evacuating Saturday morning.

McMaster said Tuesday that residents of seven islands and a beach evacuated because of Hurricane Irma can return home. He said on Twitter he ended the evacuation order at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday. The order covered barrier islands in Beaufort and Jasper counties and Edisto Beach in Colleton County.

By far the biggest place evacuated was Hilton Head Island, with 42,000 people. The populations of the other islands ranged from several hundred to a few dozen.

Irma brought several feet of storm surge over the islands Monday, even though the center passed some 200 miles to the southwest.

Even McMaster wasn't immune from the storm's wrath.

A massive oak tree fell Monday on a two-story apartment building he owns in Columbia by the University of South Carolina.

The college students living there are safe, but the damage to two apartments shows the storm is wreaking havoc across the state, McMaster said.

"It can happen anywhere. We didn't expect that at all," he said.

The fallen tree left up to eight people without a home, but no one was injured, according to the Columbia Fire Department.

As of Tuesday morning, 25 shelters were housing nearly 900 evacuees. McMaster visited one of the shelters at a middle school in Columbia near where he grew up.

He said the dozens of people inside came from all over the East Coast, including Savannah, Georgia, and Key West, Florida.

"We're delighted they're here. We want to help them in any way we can," he said. "We hope they come back."

South Carolina road officials said they have had to close a lane of southbound Interstate 95 just as evacuees from Irma begin to return home.

The Department of Transportation said Tuesday that Irma's winds and rains likely helped damage a culvert on I-95 in Dillon County near mile marker 186 about 20 miles north of Florence.

Officials say a lane needs to be closed so crews can put up a barrier wall so they can repair the culvert without further disrupting traffic.

Online traffic maps already showed a 10-mile backup reaching nearly into North Carolina.

The DOT says the lane should be reopened Wednesday.

Irma will not disrupt primary elections in Charlotte

Primary elections in North Carolina's largest city and two other communities will be held as scheduled Tuesday after state officials weighed whether changes due to Tropical Storm Irma were warranted.

The state elections board Monday announced their decision after checking with meteorologists. Charlotte holds primary elections for mayor and city council Tuesday, as does Cleveland County for its school board and Murphy for mayor.

Board Executive Director Kim Strach says officials will keep monitoring the weather - heavy rains and high winds arrive later Monday and continue Tuesday -- and didn't rule out actions that ensure poll worker and voter safety.

Charlotte and Cleveland County held early in-person voting through Saturday afternoon. There is no in-person voting Monday. Tuesday's polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Battered Florida tries to assess scope of Irma's destruction

Aid rushed in to hurricane-scarred Florida early Tuesday, residents began to dig out, and officials slowly pieced together the scope of Irma's vicious path of destruction across the peninsula.

Even as glimmers of hope emerged from parts of the state forecasters once worried would be razed by the storm, the fate of the Florida Keys, where Irma rumbled through with Category 4 muscle, remained largely a question mark. Communication and access were cut and authorities dangled only vague assessments of ruinous impact.

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"It's devastating," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said after emerging from a Monday fly-over of the Keys.

A Navy aircraft carrier was due to anchor off Key West to help in search-and-rescue efforts. Drinking water supplies in the Keys were cut off, fuel was running low and all three hospitals in the island chain were shuttered. The governor described overturned mobile homes, washed-ashore boats and rampant flood damage.

A stunning 13 million people, two-thirds of the third-largest state's residents, plodded on in the tropical heat without electricity, and nearly every corner of Florida felt Irma's power. In a parting blow to the state before pushing on to Georgia and beyond, the storm caused record flooding in and around Jacksonville, causing untold damage and prompting dozens of rescues. It also spread misery into Georgia and South Carolina as it moved inland with winds at 50 mph, causing flooding and power outages.

[CLICK HERE for a list of videos from Channel 9 affiliate WFTV in Orlando]

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Six deaths in Florida have been blamed on Irma, along with three in Georgia and one in South Carolina. At least 35 people were killed in the Caribbean.

More than 180,000 people huddled in shelters in the Sunshine State and officials warned it could take weeks for electricity to be restored to everyone.

"How are we going to survive from here?" asked Gwen Bush, who waded through thigh-deep floodwaters outside her central Florida home to reach National Guard rescuers and get a ride to a shelter. "What's going to happen now? I just don't know."

The governor said it was way too early to put a dollar estimate on the damage.

During its march up Florida's west coast, Irma swamped homes, uprooted trees, flooded streets, snapped miles of power lines and toppled construction cranes.

Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest. And the governor said damage on the southwest coast, including in Naples and Fort Myers, was not as bad as feared. In the Keys, though, he said "there is devastation."

"It's horrible, what we saw," Scott said. "I know for our entire state, especially the Keys, it's going to be a long road."

He said the Navy dispatched the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York and the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln to help with relief efforts.

Emergency managers in the islands declared Monday "the Keys are not open for business" and warned that there was no fuel, electricity, running water or cell service and that supplies were low and anxiety high.

"HELP IS ON THE WAY," they promised on Facebook.

The Keys are linked by 42 bridges that have to be checked for safety before motorists can be allowed in, officials said. The governor said the route also needs to be cleared of debris and sand, but should be usable fairly quickly.

In the Jacksonville area, close to the Georgia line, storm surge brought some of the worst flooding ever seen there, with at least 46 people pulled from swamped homes.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office warned residents along the St. Johns River to "Get out NOW."

"If you need to get out, put a white flag in front of your house. A t-shirt, anything white," the office said on its Facebook page. "Search and rescue teams are ready to deploy."

A tornado spun off by Irma was reported on the Georgia coast, and firefighters inland had to rescue several people after trees fell on their homes.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, and school was canceled in communities around the state. More than 1.5 million customers were without power Monday night in Georgia.

Irma, weakened to a tropical depression, is expected to push into Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee over the next two days.

People in the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area had braced for the first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921. But by the time Irma arrived in the middle of the night Monday, its winds were down to 100 mph (161 kph) or less.

"When that sun came out this morning and the damage was minimal, it became a good day," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.