LUMBERTON — Despite a diminishing threat, Robeson County Emergency Management and Emergency Services met today to discus their readiness and preparations for Hurricane Matthew, which is showing signs of moving away from Southeastern North Carolina but whose track remains iffy.
Meeting at the Robeson County Emergency Management headquarters, Stephanie Chavis, Emergency Services director, addressed representatives from agencies including law enforcement, the Red Cross, the Public Schools of Robeson County Schools and forestry, and relayed the latest information on the storm’s projected path.
“The track has changed some, but they don’t want us to let our guard down,” Chavis said, referring to North Carolina Emergency Management. “We are looking at trees down, which means lines down and power outages. They are telling us that the storm is going to affect us late Friday night early Saturday morning.”
As of this afternoon, the storm was moving northwest at 12.5 mph with sustained winds topping out around 120 mph. Matthew is expected to make landfall in eastern Florida overnight Thursday and continue to hug the coastline as it moves up to South Carolina and North Carolina before taking a right out into the Atlantic.
Chavis said that the storm, whichwas feared would be a Category 3 hurricane when it hit North Carolina, was now more likely to be a Cat. 1 when it approached — meaning winds measuring from 76 to 100 mph.
Chavis said that 4 inches of rain are expected in Robeson County which, along with winds, would likely bring down trees and raise the level of the Lumber River to 14 feet, 7 inches.
The predicted track of the storm, taking a more easterly tack over the South Carolina and North Carolina coasts, should mean less of an effect on Robeson. As a result, the county is scaling back from four emergency shelters to two, Chavis said. The locations of these two shelters will be decided by noon Thursday.
These shelters, which will be in Robeson schools, have food ordered and generators on standby, schools Superintendent Tommy Lowry said. Lowry also said a decision on Friday school closings would be made Thursday.
Schools that will act as shelters have been inspected. Chavis encouraged other entities, such as churches, planning to set up as shelters not to do so.
“We’ve had lots of calls from people setting up shelters, we are telling them not to do that,” Chavis said. “There are certain criteria buildings have to meet to be a shelter … . We don’t want people to take that liability on themselves.”
Robeson is expected to be a host shelter for coastal North Carolinians and South Carolinians who are evacuating.
Extra emergency personnel are on hand, department heads said at the meeting.
Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey said his whole fleet of lawmen is on standby. North Carolina Highway Patrol has more troopers on the road. The Forestry Service will have five people available in Robeson County.
While county emergency services have been significantly beefed-up, responders’ safety will be a priority.
“Once we get to 35 mph sustained winds, we are going to stop emergency response, unless it is life threatening,” Chavis said. “If a tree is down, we aren’t going to send our guys out there and put them at risk. We have to stop those women and men going out there at a certain time.”
Friday morning an Emergency Operations Center will be activated, which will have two dedicated telephone lines for the public to call with concerns. Those numbers will be released on Thursday evening.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatlty