LUMBERTON — Robeson County residents, dazed and drenched, emerged this morning to find the mess that Matthew made, surveying damage at their homes and workplaces, adjusting to an immediate future without power and internet, and finding something as simple as driving across town to be difficult or not allowed.
Matthew, which spent about 18 hours in Robeson County, dumped as many as 20 inches of rain in some areas, dropped trees on homes, knocked down utility lines, and flooded streets before finally calming down about 8 p.m. and heading on.
Although there were no confirmed deaths, two people were reported missing. There were well over 100 vehicle and car rescues, including about 40 by St. Pauls firefighters, a town that suffered some of the worst of the storm.
Almost 100 percent of power customers with Lumberton, Red Springs, Duke Power or Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation lost power.
Kellie Blue, the finance director for Robeson County who was acting as a spokesman for the county, said today that Duke officials said Wednesday would be the target date to get everyone back on line.
Lumberton City Manager Wayne Horne said utility crews from Concord, Kings Mountain and Gastonia were helping Lumberton, Red Springs and Laurinburg restore power, but he did not have an estimate on how long it would be, pointing out their power is purchased by Duke Energy, which was still assessing damage mostly caused by downs trees. A city alert said it is “impossible to tell” when power would be restored but “rest assured we will work tirelessly” until it is.
Although water was everywhere, fresh water was a problem for some. Some county customers were without water because of broken lines, and Pembroke was advising its residents to boil water before it is used. Horne said that city residents don’t need to boil their water, but he did encourage people to conserve as the city might have some issues at intake sites.
Blue said that the Highway Patrol had closed Interstate 95 between Exits 17 and 19 and were rerouting traffic through Lumberton. She said U.S. 301 was closed in both directions, and “more than 90 percent of all roads” were affected in some way, either by flooding, felled trees or both. Highway Patrol officials were telling people to stay home to make room for utility trucks that were rushing into the region.
Lumberton has declared a mandatory curfew until 10 a.m. on Monday, asking people to stay at home.
The Lumber River was expected to peak at 24.8 feet today, a record, and the river could be seen swallowing up N.C.. 711 in front of the central office of the Public Schools of Robeson County, where a fleet of trucks was almost completely submerged. The public schools have already canceled classes through Wednesday, and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke is closed until Wednesday, the day before its fall break begins. There are no classes at Robeson Community College on Monday, but it’s unclear if they will be canceled beyond that.
UNCP Chancellor Robin Cummings issued the following statement: “We strongly encourage students to return home or leave campus if possible for their comfort. Please only travel if it is safe and roads are clear. Phone lines remain down. AT&T has been notified and as soon as they are able to restore service all campus phones will be operational.”
He added that volunteers have been on campus distributing food packages from the CARE Resource Center to students in need.
The county has opened six shelters, at Red Springs, South Robeson, Purnell Swett and St. Pauls high schools, Carroll Middle School and the Bill Sapp Recreation Center. Blue said people were being fed there and nurses were available to provide medical care if needed. People at Bill Sapp Recreation Center were being moved to the Southeastern Agricultural Events Center Monday afternoon.
Pembroke Town Manager said anyone needed a ride to the Purnell Swett shelter could call the Pembroke Police Department at 910-521-4333 and an officer would provide one.
Horne said Lumberton’s offices would be closed on Monday as employees would have trouble getting to work.
The storm dealt a major blow to commerce.
The Robesonian newspaper was among many businesses that were flooded, delaying delivery of Sunday’s edition until later this week. The newspaper will find a temporary headquarters and plans to publish a print edition on Tuesday; it is using robesonian.com to inform readers of what it is able to report.
Very few businesses were open, and finding gasoline was difficult. Motorists intending to travel through Robeson County found themselves stranded, and a gasoline station in St. Pauls had a line of more than 50 cars, but was serving first responders first.
Lowes Food on Fayetteville Road was open and there was a line to enter the store.
The city is also encouraging residents to conserve water, but consumers of city water do not need to boil the water. There is a danger of a shortage.
R.K. Prater, a Fairmont native who owns an insurance agency in Fayetteville, said anyone who could get to his office could get supplied of bottle water. His office is at know at 1490 Clinton Road.
Robeson County got much of the worst from Matthew, which sent celebrated meterologist Jim Cantore to the county, where he was reporting for the Weather Channel.
People who would like to get Code Red alerts from the county can do so by texting 2725875.
The Robesonian will continue to update this story as new information is available.