LUMBERTON — Relief efforts continue around Robeson County with federal, state and local officials coordinating in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
Estimates coming from the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center, a of Monday evening, have around 1,400 people in shelters around the county and 2,800 have been displaced by storm water — both numbers that will rise.
On Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory received a federal disaster declaration for 31 North Carolina counties, including Robeson, with the goal of accelerating federal aid.
“A lot of people are hurting right now in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and the devastation is beyond words,” said Gov. McCrory. “This expedited declaration will help provide much needed and immediate federal assistance to communities impacted by Hurricane Matthew. I want to thank our federal partners for approving this declaration quickly and for their continued assistance.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is coordinating with county officials. A FEMA response center has been set up in South Lumberton on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and Second Street, where some of the most severe flooding has been seen. That site has rescue personnel from many different states, National Guard and and local emergency services. The site is being controlled by U.S. Marshal’s Service officers.
Kelli Blue, county finance officer who is serving as spokesperson, said that 150 FEMA and other rescue personnel are being housed at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
There have been reports of a levee breaking near West Fifth Street, however, city of Lumberton officials say that there has been no structural breach. Water from the Lumber River is pouring through an opening in the dyke left open for railroad tracks and into South Lumberton. The Lumber River at West Fifth Street was at 21.7 feet Monday evening, down from earlier that day.
Police Chief Mike McNeill said in a CodeRED call from the city that “our flood victims are our first priority,” not people needing relocation.
Almost all residents of Robeson County are without power. Duke Energy, which has more than 21,000 customers without power in Robeson, is estimating it can restore power by 11:45 p.m. on Sunday. Lumbee River EMC has 18,232 customers without power. All of the city of Lumberton is out as officials wait for Duke Energy to repair its transmission lines.
City Manager Wayne Horne said transmission lines to Lumberton’s electrical substations won’t be repaired until late today, after which the city can restore its services. Crews from Gastonia, Concord and Kings Mountain have been called in to help repair broken lines and utility poles.
Water in the city of Lumberton was shut off after a river intake pump west of Interstate 95 failed. The water plant is without power and has been shut down. Additionally, about 26,000 county residents were without water mid-day Monday.
Rob Armstrong, Lumberton’s public works director, said Tuesday morning that once floodwaters recede enough from the Water Plant, the city has a large-scale pump that can be used to pump remaining water from the facility and restore it to operation.
County and city officials have been in contact with McCrory in an effort to get water delivered to the area.
Most roads in and through Lumberton are impassable.
According to the Department of Transportation Interstate 95 is closed from exit 13 to 31 in both directions; N.C. 211 near Clyborn Church Road is closed in both directions; N.C. 41 is closed in both directions at the Bladen-Robeson county line; N.C. 71 in Maxton is closed in both directions; U.S. 74 near I-95 is impassable and U.S. 74 near N.C. 130 is closed in both directions; N.C. 72 near Contempora Drive and Lewis McNeill Road are closed in both directions, among other road closures.
More than 1,100 NCDOT employees, nearly 350 pieces of equipment and more than 630 chainsaws have been utilized statewide.
“Safety remains our top priority as we work to address the damage caused by major flooding on roadways,” Tennyson said. “While the storm has passed, many roads are still impassable, and conditions in some areas are worsening as floodwaters rise. We continue to stress that motorists should not try to drive through flood waters. Please pay attention to signs and barricades to help us avoid further tragedy on our roadways.”
Drivers are urged to visit ReadyNC.org or call 5-1-1 for real-time road closure and traffic conditions before they leave.
Classes for the Public Schools of Robeson County, Robeson Community College and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke are cancelled through Wednesday. Gasoline is scarce and a few groceries stores, operating on generator power, were open Monday, including Lowes Foods on Fayetteville Road, Food Lion on Elizabethtown Road and IGA on Roberts Avenue.
Heather Blue was waiting in line at IGA at 9 Monday morning with her two daughters to get water, ice and paper towels. She said Matthew swept away a dog house at her Lumberton home, lifted her neighbor’s trampoline and took off part of her roof. The family has been passing the time without power by playing board games.
“We’ve been playing Uno and Monopoly and having some good family time .. it’s a bad situation but we’re trying to make the best of it,” she said.
Chris Walker, IGA’s meat market manager, got to work at about 8 Monday morning after having worked a 10-hour shift Sunday. He said the store opened at 7 a.m. Monday and a line was already forming to get inside — a sight he has never seen in his nine years working at the store.
“We had to close the store yesterday because we had too many people in the store,” he said.
He said the store was clean out of bread and ice and other items were being brought from other IGA locations that couldn’t open. People were buying up meat and charcoal, planning to cook out.
Across the parking lot, Sone Coleman and her family were waiting in an equally long line to grab hot dogs, fries and hamburgers at Phil’s Grill. Coleman and her family were staying in a shelter at Bill Sapp Recreation Center after flood waters forced them from their home. The family was eager to get out of the crowded shelter, where they said some people were sleeping sitting in chairs, and to get a hot meal in their stomachs.
“We tried to stay at the house as long as we could,” she said.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly