LUMBERTON — With the ravages of Hurricane Matthew still fresh in the minds of Robeson County residents, Hurricane Irma is swirling in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and raising new worries about another weather disaster.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center placed Irma about five days east of the outermost Caribbean Islands and at least one week from the United States. It had grown swiftly from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It’s track was west-northwest at 13 mph.
Irma still is far away from North Carolina’s shores, and it is too early to say where, or even if, the storm will make landfall in the United States. But that hasn’t stopped local leaders from casting their eyes toward Irma and preparing for the worst possible scenario: Irma hitting Robeson County.
“We’ll know more about the middle of next week,” Lumberton City Manager Wayne Horne said.
He and his staff are getting regular updates on Irma’s strength, location and direction of movement, Horne said. And they are getting prepared, in part using knowledge gained in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.
“We pretty much know what happened to cause the Hurricane Matthew flooding,” Horne said.
Most of the floodwaters in South Lumberton came through an opening under Interstate 95 near VFW Road.
“We’ll be moving material there to create a temporary dam,” Horne said.
Another reason for the Hurricane Matthew flooding was the Lumber River’s high water level, he said. The river was at its flood level of 13 feet when Matthew hit. The river’s current flood level is 7 feet.
Helping prevent another round of devastating flooding is the fact that local canals and ditches are in better shape now than when Mathew hit.
“Actually Matthew cleared them out,” Horne said. “That high level of water flushed out a lot of the debris.”
The city also is getting generators and other response equipment ready, Horne said. City personnel are making sure vehicles’ gasoline tanks are full. And the city already has been in contact with ElectriCities, with whcih the city has a mutual aid agreement. The organization that includes public power communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia will send repair crews into the area if Lumberton loses power.
City personnel will begin meeting daily next week to track the storm and ensure the city is ready to respond if it hits Robeson County, Horne said. But that still is in doubt. Two forecasts are predicting different tracks for the storm, and a weather front moving in from the north may direct Irma farther to the south.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Horne said.
“We are in a monitoring stage right now,” said Stephanie Chavis, county fire marshal and Emergency Services director.
Chavis has her department watching the development of Irma and planning just in case.
“We’re being told we’ll know more by Tuesday,” Chavis said.
The National Weather Service is keeping her department up-to-date on Irma’s development and movement, Chavis said. She is forwarding each piece of information she receives from the weather service to county department leaders and to the county’s fire and rescue personnel.
“I’m just telling everybody to be on standby and be ready,” Chavis said.
“We’re stocking up the Emergency Operations Center,” County Manager Ricky Harris said.
And county personnel are making sure emergency generators are operational and there is enough fuel for them on hand, he said.
Robeson County residents are reminded that they can register to receive emergency notifications on the county CodeRED system. The system sends notifications about emergency situations, such as storms and floods, to private telephones. Go to www.co.robeson.nc.us or call the Robeson County Emergency Management Office at 910-671-3150 to register.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974.