LUMBERTON — Robeson County public schools suffered no “major structural damage” as a result of Hurricane Matthew the school system says, but it has yet to be determined when those schools can reopen.
Classes are canceled all this week for the Public Schools of Robeson County, as some schools are being used as emergency shelters and school buses are shuttling around the county to help evacuate residents from their flooded homes. Superintendent Tommy Lowry will send out an update on the status of school for the Public Schools of Robeson County on Sunday.
“Today we met with our cabinet, directors and supervisors from the different departments across the district to evaluate where we are,” Lowry said in statement Thursday. “We will assemble again next week to develop a plan on how we will get the school district back up and running. A lot of things are not within our control. Because we have people in shelters, we cannot open the schools. We are doing everything we can to expedite the process to get schools open. We are working with the various agencies. Everyone has parts and we must all work together to do what we need to do for our students and families.”
Shelters are open at St. Pauls High School, South Robeson High School and Purnell Swett High School, which is currently filled to capacity with about 600 occupants. As of Thursday, 1,354 people were staying in shelters set up across the county, including at Bill Sapp Recreation Center and the Southeastern North Carolina Agricultural Events Center.
According to Tasha Oxendine, public information officer for the public school system, seven schools suffered tree damage during the storm. St. Pauls Elementary, Rosenwald Elementary and Carroll Middle School have suffered water damage. Maintenance is removing carpet at St. Pauls Elementary.
Oxendine said the water damage at Carroll Middle School is in the front office. The Lumberton school was being used as a shelter, but after it was surrounded by floodwater, occupants there were moved and the shelter closed.
School personnel have not been able to assess the damage at W.H. Knuckles Elementary School or West Lumberton Elementary School because of flooding in the area, Oxendine said. Both are located in parts of Lumberton hit hardest by flooding after the Lumber River topped its banks.
Power has been restored at Purnell Swett High, Lumberton Junior High, Red Springs High and St. Pauls High.
The Public Schools of Robeson County Central Office, the transportation lot, the Planetarium and Shining Stars are all under water, Oxendine said.
Gov. Pat McCrory, in a press conference at the Robeson County Emergency Operations Center, listed conditions at Robeson County schools among the most pressing issues facing the county as it works to recover from Hurricane Matthew. He described flooding at the public schools’ central office, saying that there had been an “environmental spill there” and it will be “inoperable for a long period of time.” According to Oxendine, McCrory was referring to fuel tanks stored there that were pushed by floodwater off of their foundations, leaking some fuel.
Class has also been out all week at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke because of flooding and fall break. Power has been restored to much of the campus.
About 800 students were on campus Saturday when Hurricane Matthew hit and as of Wednesday evening, fewer than 25 remained, according to campus officials.
“We are hopeful to be able to inform you no later than Friday at 6 p.m. when campus will reopen and classes will begin,” Chancellor Robin Cummings said in a note to students Thursday. “We want to ensure campus is fully prepared to resume normal operations and provide the high-quality education experience you deserve.”
The university has continued to feed students and is hosting National Guard members responding to the hurricane damage. Students and staff are also volunteering in the effort and can be connected to volunteer opportunities by visiting serve.uncp.edu.
Robeson Community College classes are canceled through Oct. 18. As far as college official have been able to assess, damage to the campus has been minimal, says spokesperson Dennis Watts. The college’s primary issue is the lack of running water in Lumberton. College officials have not yet been able to assess damage at some of its satellite locations around the county, Watts said.