LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents were hunkering down Friday night in anticipation of Tropical Storm Hermine’s strongest rain and winds.
By Friday night, St. Pauls had already received 4.51 inches of rain, while Pembroke received 3.61 inches and Lumberton, 3.35 inches. Wind gusts as strong as 33 mph were recorded. The weather prompted Robeson County public schools to dismiss early, and city and county offices to close early. Friday night, more than 4,000 utility customers in Robeson were without power.
By this afternoon, Hermine is expected to more than 5 inches of rain total on parts of Robeson County before making way for some sunshine on Sunday. Expected rainfall totals were downgraded slightly on Friday, with previous estimates calling for 7 inches.
Flooding is the biggest threat Hermine poses to Robeson County, especially in low-lying areas surrounding the Lumber River.
A flash flood watch for Robeson was in effect overnight, with a less-severe flash flood advisories and warnings in effect until Monday at 11 a.m. A wind advisory was also in effect as Robeson braced for gusts as strong as 47 mph.
No major storm damage had been reported to the National Weather Service by Friday night. Robeson County Emergency Manager Stephanie Chavis said rain caused several traffic accidents Friday but none resulted in serious injuries.
Chavis said the main concern is the potential for falling trees. Heavy rain has saturated the ground, making it easier for strong winds to topple trees or knock down tree limbs onto homes, cars, power lines and roads.
Chavis was busy Friday afternoon keeping emergency responders posted on the deteriorating conditions — and urging residents to stay inside until the storm clears.
“If it’s at all possible, stay inside because it doesn’t put a strain on our emergency services,” she said. “… Stay at home unless its absolutely necessary to go out. Enjoy your evening at home with family.”
Paul Whitted, co-manager of IGA on Roberts Avenue in Lumberton, said customers were stocking up on Friday ahead of Hermine’s worst.
“It’s busier than normal. Earlier this afternoon it was a little bit busier than normal because of the weather with folks buying bread and a lot of canned goods,” Whitted said.
From the coast to the Sandhills, North Carolina residents on Friday experienced heavy rainfall and strong winds. Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in 33 North Carolina counties, including Robeson.
Duke Energy on Friday moved crews to eastern North Carolina and to South Carolina to respond to outages. On Friday night 4,241 Duke Energy customers were without power across Robeson County.
Duke Energy customers in Robeson County who experience an outage can report it by texting OUT to 57801 or calling 800-769-3766
Lumbee River Electrical Membership Corporation showed 209 customers without power Friday night throughout the county. Lumbee River customers can call 910-843-4131 to report an outage.
In Lumberton, electric utility and public works crews were on standby to respond to outages and clear debris. Utility customers with the city of Lumberton can report outages by calling 910-671-3865.
No emergency shelters had been opened in Robeson as of Friday evening.
Along the East Coast more than 30 million people were placed under either a tropical storm warning or watch through Labor Day weekend.
In South Carolina, Hermine spawned scattered reports of flooded roads, trees down and power outages but no major damage, the Associated Press reports.
Emergency Management Division spokesman Derrec Becker likened it more to a bad summer storm than a hurricane. The storm hit Florida as a hurricane, but winds fell to tropical storm strength as it moved across the Southeast.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley did not declare a state of emergency.
Hundreds of thousands of Georgia residents were without power Friday after Hermine passed over Florida and made its way northeast. The storm is thought to have caused one death in Florida, where a homeless man in Marion County was struck by a falling tree, the Associated Press reported. Then a Category 1 hurricane, Hermine was the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.
The storm has also prompted Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency as the eastern part of that state prepared for what McAuliffe called “life-threatening” storm surges.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets. Terri Ferguson Smith can be reached at 910-416-5865. The Associated Press contributed to this report.