LUMBERTON — Although Hurricane Matthew’s track shows the Category 3 storm staying off of North Carolina’s coast, forecasters now say the storm could bring as much as 6 inches of rain to Robeson County this weekend.
Forecasters also warn against putting too much faith in Matthew’s current predicted path, as the storm was still 215 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, at 8 this morning. The storm is expected to strengthen before hitting Florida, approach the South Carolina coast and turn eastward.
According to a 6:30 a.m. storm briefing from the National Weather Service in Wilmington, rain associated with Matthew will begin to fall in Southeast North Carolina Friday night, with the storm’s closest approach coming Saturday and Saturday night.
As much as 6.08 inches of rain are predicated to fall in Lumberton by 8 p.m. Sunday, with 5.32 inches predicted for St. Pauls. Elizabethtown could see 7 inches of rain and Whiteville about 8. Wilmington could get 10 inches of rain, with as much as 12 inches falling in Southport, the briefing says.
The heavy rainfall means flooding could be a problem in Robeson County. The Lumber River is already at 15.74 feet, according to flood warning in effect for areas around the Lumber River “until further notice.”
The storm is also forecast to bring peak sustained winds of 31 mph to Robeson County, with maximum gusts of 43 mph.
The most rain — as much as 4 inches — is expected to fall in Lumberton on Saturday, with Sunday expected to be mostly sunny. Robeson County fair officials plan to assess the weather Friday and make a determination about changes to the schedule. The fair is scheduled through Saturday.
With the threat of severe weather looming, Robeson residents on Wednesday stocked up on generators, flashlights, batteries, bread, canned goods, water and milk. Lumberton hotels were also filling up this week as coastal North Carolina and South Carolina residents — some under mandatory evacuation orders — headed inland.
Robeson County officials met to discuss emergency plans on Wednesday. The storm has forced some athletic events to be rescheduled but no announcements have been made about Friday classes in the Public Schools of Robeson County.
“The track has changed some, but they don’t want us to let our guard down,” said Robeson County Emergency Services Director Stephanie Chavis, referring to state officials. “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 and early Saturday morning.”
Chavis said the locations of emergency shelters, which would be set up in local public schools, will be decided today. Supplies have already been ordered for those shelters, officials said, and generators have been tested.
“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 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 this evening.
As Lumbee tribal offices and the tribe’s Boys & Girls Clubs will close at 3 p.m. Friday, Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr. announced. The Pembroke Boys & Girls Club will open at noon on Saturday for tribal members in need of shelter. For information or to request transportation, tribal members can call 910-522-2183 or 910-374-9880.
All Robeson county residents can sign up to receive emergency alerts by phone call, text and email from the county by visiting co.robeson.nc.us/code-red-information.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.