LUMBERTON — With Hurricane Matthew’s path leaning eastward, Robeson County might dodge the worst of what started as an historic Category 5 storm.
The now Category 3 hurricane roared through parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic Tuesday and is passing over Cuba and the Bahamas today before reaching Florida.
“The official track has shifted to the east off the Carolinas. The storm remains a major hurricane but has weakened after its interaction with eastern Cuba,” The National Weather Service in Wilmington said.
The storm is expected to reach North Carolina sometime Saturday, but it’s unclear how close to the coast it will come. According to the Weather Service, it could bring as much as 3 inches of rain to Lumberton from Friday night to Sunday morning, however “specific details on impacts are difficult to determine at this time given the uncertainty in the track.” The Weather Service’s morning briefing is also calling for peak winds of 26 mph with gusts up to 43 mph in Robeson. There is a chance of showers Sunday, with sunny skies expected to return to Robeson on Monday.
County officials in Robeson were meeting at 10 a.m. today at the Emergency Operations Center to discuss the forecast and any needed preparations, including opening emergency shelters.
Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, S.C. stand to receive 6 to 8 inches of rain, while Southport is looking at 6 inches and Wilmington at 5 inches. The campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is being evacuated.
Matthew has caused few disruptions locally so far. High school football games scheduled for Friday have been moved to Thursday, but no classes have been delayed or cancelled as of this morning. Parents and students will be notified of any schedule changes through social media, the school system website and automated calls.
Superintendent Tommy Lowry said this morning that school officials have inspected generators and have been in contact with county emergency services, the National Weather Service and the Red Cross.
“We have been monitoring the storm since last week and today we have a 10 a.m. meeting with Robeson County Emergency Management to look at the progress of the storm,” Lowry said via a spokesperson. ” … We have proactively put plans in place and shelters are ready to be set up if needed.”
Flooding could be a concern in Robeson County around the Lumber River.
According to a flood warning in effect for Lumberton through Sunday evening, the Lumber River is at 16.34 feet. Flood stage is 13 feet. The statement cautions of flooding in the Pines and Coxs Pond areas as well as along River Road, Chickenfoot Road, Hestertown Road and Noir Street in Lumberton.
Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday declared a state of emergency in 66 counties, including Robeson, in anticipation of Matthew’s arrival.
“Many of our central and eastern counties are already saturated from storms during the past few weeks,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry. “With additional rain and heavy winds in the forecast, we are preparing for additional flooding, downed trees and widespread power outages in the coming days.”
The North Carolina Emergency Operations Center was activated Monday and was set to begin 24-hour operations Thursday morning.
“The North Carolina National Guard will have soldiers on standby ready to provide direct assistance to state and local emergency managers, the Highway Patrol and first responders,” said Public Safety Secretary Frank L. Perry. “The Guard has high water vehicles and helicopters, and can provide power generation, medical, communication and shelter support, and is capable of transporting supplies if needed.”
State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is urging farmers to have emergency plans in place and share those plans with workers in advance of landfall. Farmers should secure pesticides, relocate livestock and tie down and move equipment to high ground.
Many crops are still in the field and recent rains from tropical storms have saturated parts of eastern North Carolina, said Troxler.
“This creates a perfect condition for downed trees, flooded pastures and crops lost in the field,” Troxler said. “But farmers can take some steps ahead of time to minimize losses or at least be prepared to respond after the storm.”
Residents can receive emergency alerts from the state and view an emergency preparedness checklist at readyNC.org.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets. Terri Smith contributed to this report.