The one-year anniversary of Hurricane Matthew’s devastation of Robeson County is either today or yesterday, depending on how you want to measure it.
Yesterday was one year to the day that Matthew hit, and today is the actual anniversary date.
And so it was that Gov. Roy Cooper on Saturday visited Lumberton, rolled up his sleeves and did some rehabilitation work on a home in South Lumberton, for which we are appreciative of the sweat and the attention. Today there will be a spiritual remembrance at Lumberton High School at 4 p.m. that the public is invited to.
The Robesonian will publish on Oct. 22 a commemorative edition that had been planned for today, but was delayed two weeks because, as irony would have it, another hurricane that did not hit us hard, but complicated production that was taking place elsewhere.
Reminders aren’t necessary as memories are keen. We doubt a day has passed that a single Robeson County resident has not given a least a moment’s thought to what we endured that weekend and the weeks that followed, and continue to as the anniversary comes and goes.
As we said when we emerged from the post-Matthew funk, North Carolina was hit harder than any other state by Matthew, Robeson County was hit harder than any other county in our state, and Lumberton was hit harder than any other municipality in the county.
Ground Zero is a distinction that the county seat surely would have been happy to do without.
Matthew, as hurricanes are, was indiscriminate in its destruction, but those who were the most vulnerable are the ones who suffer the longest. Many of those who were hit hard have fully recovered, but there are corridors of Lumberton, certainly West Fifth Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which are unlikely to ever be the same. A drive around reveals vacant and dilapidated homes and businesses. Hundreds, perhaps even into the thousands, of people have fled and are unlikely to return.
But there was some good in all the carnage. Robeson County residents for the past year have demonstrated a tremendous amount of resiliency, which has been displayed not only in their own recoveries, but by those who have reached out to help others — with no consideration for the things that don’t matter, mostly race and social status. Because of that, this county is a better place than it was on Oct. 7, 2016.
Many stories of heroism and benevolence will be chronicled in our commemorative edition.
What we also learned was how tremendously unprepared we were for Matthew, which can be forgiven when it is remembered it is considered a once in 500-year event. Who could have guessed that 17 inches of rain would fall in about that many hours, and at a time when a recent tropical storm had already pushed the Lumber River past flood stage?
But should there by a Matthew 2.0, we will be better prepared. The city’s water plant is better fortified, steps continue to be taken that would keep the Lumber River constrained, and government officials and emergency responders can recall what worked well and what didn’t as they came to the rescue of the rest of us the next time.
So, while it might be hard to believe, in many ways this county and its people are stronger now than we were then. But there remain a lot of people who are displaced and in need of help as we begin Year 2 of post-Matthew.
They cannot be forgotten either until they are fully restored.