LUMBERTON — Massive pumps have been able to remove enough water from West Lumberton to open the previously-submerged West Fifth Street and nearly give crews access to city’s water plant, raising hopes that earlier estimate of no water for two to four weeks could be wrong.
Pumps are removing about 7 1/2 million gallons of water per hour from the area, according to Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis. Davis said Saturday afternoon that there was still about 6 inches of standing water around the Lowery Road water plant and crews had not yet entered the facility to survey the damage done by Hurricane Matthew.
The plant had been submerged by floodwater, preventing workers from reaching it after a generator there failed and the plant was shut down. Water had already been cut off to city customers at that point because a river intake pump west of Interstate 95 also failed, leaving the system without enough water to fully operate. The city has been without running water since Monday. All city fire departments have been supplied with water tankers to fight fires.
Lumberton received about 12 inches of rain Saturday from Matthew, causing the Lumber River to top its banks west of I-95 and pour through a railroad pass-though in the dike that protects the city from flooding.
“Sunshine and time is not going to move this kind of water,” Davis said.
According to Davis, the water being removed from the area is being pumped back into the portion of the river that overflowed, but the process will not make the river flood again.
“It will not make a bit of difference,” he said, citing information from an engineer working with the city. “The river is moving at such a velocity that that water is moving right on down the river.”
As the city works to get its water plant back on line, it is also connecting its water system to the county’s. This process has caused some taps to flow in Lumberton.
“We’re trying to secure enough water through our shared system to energize our lines,” he said. “As we keep building that supply, hopefully we will have enough water for people to use their facilities.”
For now, Davis said city residents who do get their water restored should not drink it because it has traveled through city lines that dried up. Testing has showed the county water supply is safe for consumption, Robeson County Emergency Services Director Stephanie Chavis said this morning.
Once workers get into the Lumberton water plant, they will begin making needed repairs before trying to restore water service.
The Lumber River is forecast to recede.
“The river has crested and is forecast to fall at a rate of one foot per day, Robeson County Emergency Management said in a Facebook post Saturday afternoon. “Should no rain events occur, the river will drop below flood stage by Oct. 27.”
Sarah Willets can be reached at Sarah_Willets.