LUMBERTON — As Hurricane Matthew slowed its roll toward the North Carolina coast this afternoon, the forecast was holding steady for Robeson County — rain and lots of it.
Matthew was expected to continue along the South Carolina coast as a Category 2 storm, becoming a Category 1 storm as it nears Wilmington on Saturday evening. North Carolina is not expected to take a direct hit from Matthew, but coastal areas are still at risk of dangerous storm surges.
Across North Carolina, residents were being urged to monitor forecasts and stay at home Saturday.
“We have seen how powerful this storm is,” said Gov. Pat McCrory, who declared a state of emergency for all 100 North Carolina counties. “I’m urging residents in central and eastern North Carolina to be alert, monitor the storm closely and be prepared to evacuate if it becomes necessary. We’re very concerned about the heavy rainfall and winds we’re expecting during the next 72 hours. The rains will likely bring heavy flooding and storm surge in coastal areas and dangerous conditions and significant power outages throughout central and eastern North Carolina.”
Matthew’s wind and rain are expected to pick up throughout today in Robeson County. There’s a slight chance of rain on Sunday as well before the sun breaks through Monday.
The storm is expected to bring as much as 8.44 inches of rain to Lumberton by Sunday night with St. Pauls looking at 7.45 inches. Elizabethtown could see 9.92 inches and Whiteville could see 11.6 inches. Southport and Wilmington are each looking at about 12 inches of rain by Sunday night. Peak sustained winds are forecast at 40 mph in Lumberton, and gusts could reach 56 mph.
Emergency shelters across the county will open at 8 a.m. Saturday at South Robeson High School, located at 3268 South Robeson Road in Rowland; Gilbert Carroll Middle School, at 300 Bailey Road in Lumberton; and St. Pauls High School, located at 648 N. Old Stage Road in St. Pauls. Additionally, the Lumbee Tribe has designated the Pembroke Boys & Girls Club as an emergency shelter, opening Saturday at noon.
Shelters were originally set to open this afternoon, but the hours were delayed so that staff wouldn’t be overworked before Matthew’s worst, Emergency Services Director Stephanie Chavis said. The full “activation” of the EOC was also delayed for that purpose.
The EOC was fully staffed and running with representatives of all emergency services, municipal government, the Red Cross and other agencies, according to Chavis. There are two dedicated phone lines to report storm-related issues: 910-272-5864 and 910-272-5875.
Staff at the EOC were in wait-and-see mode today as the forecast for Matthew’s impact changed little during the day. County officials said at an emergency preparedness meeting Wednesday that extra emergency responders are on hand, but stressed that they will not be sent out in life-threatening conditions.
This afternoon Robeson was under a flood warning and a tropical storm warning. Flooding is expected in Robeson County as the Lumber River was already higher than the 13-foot flood stage prior to Matthew’s arrival. The river is expected to rise to 19.4 feet by Sunday evening before beginning to fall, the flood warning says.
“Flash flooding is possible in some areas. Do not attempt to drive over flooded roadways. Better yet, stay off the roads completely until the storm passes,” Lumberton Rescue and EMS told residents via Facebook.
Residents can check road conditions on the Department of Transportation website at tims.ncdot.gov/tims.
The combination of heavy rainfall and strong winds could bring down trees, limbs and power lines across Robeson County. Utilities are operating with the same caution as Robeson County emergency responders — crews will set out to restore outage as soon as they can do so safely.
In the event of an outage, customers with Duke Energy can report an outage by texting OUT to 57801 or calling 800-419-6356. The utility says it has more than 2,300 line workers at the ready.
Lumbee River Electrical Membership Corporation is monitoring the forecast and says if outages occur, it will “begin restoration efforts as soon as conditions are safe.” Lumbee River customers can report outages by calling 800-683-5571 or 910-843-4131.
Utility customers with the city of Lumberton can report outages by calling 910-671-3865 and Red Springs customers can call the Emergency Operations Center.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets. Mike Gellatly contributed to this report.