LUMBERTON — Hurricane Irma, once feared to be bringing serious problems to Robeson County residents gun-shy from Matthew, has become mostly an inconvenience, giving the county a dreary day on Monday and another today while causing some minor disruptions.
The school system, which sent students homes at noon on Monday, will begin two hours later today, a nod to the possibility of high winds.
“The Public Schools of Robeson County will operate on a two-hour delay for all staff and students … due to the threat of high winds and heavy rains overnight as a result of Tropical Storm Irma,” said Superintendent Shanita Wooten. “This will provide better visibility for our drivers as they run their routes … . We understand that weather can change quickly, but we are erring on the side of safety.”
City and county offices, including the court system, opened on a two-hour delay on Monday, but are back on scheduled today.
Sporadic showers should bring about 1 inch of rain to the county today, according to the National Weather Service office in Wilmington. Winds today will be out of the south and no stronger than 15 mph. The Lumber River’s water level was 8.95 feet at 6:02 p.m. Monday and should peak at 10.8 feet on Wednesday. The river’s flood level is 13 feet.
Monday’s rain began about 1 p.m. and was off an on throughout the day.
“Hopefully, after tomorrow we can return to normal and stop worrying about Irma,” said Stephanie Chavis, county Emergency Management director.
About 500 Lumbee River Electric Corporation customers were without power for about two hours on Monday, said Walter White, a spokesman for the utility.
“A tree feel across a major line in the area,” White said.
The tree’s fall was attributed to high winds, he said.
The electric utility has not sent trucks or personnel to Florida to help with recovery efforts there, White said. All trucks were being kept in the area because of the severe weather predicted for Monday night.
“Once we get an all clear in our service area we will send the trucks where they are needed,” White said.
Duke Energy wasn’t waiting.
“Nine thousand line workers, tree professionals, and support personal are being sent,” said Shawna Burger, Duke Energy spokesperson. “Currently we have trucks staged throughout Florida and Perry, Georgia.”
Robeson County has become a destination for many fleeing the hurricane from Florida, with local hotels reporting a lot of evacuees.
West Robeson United Methodist Church in Pembroke decided to put out a welcome mat.
Church members gathered Sunday at the Welcome Center on Interstate 95 near Exit 3 to hold its Sunday morning service and then began passing out free food to people traveling north ahead of Hurricane Irma, said Anthony James, the church’s pastor. The idea was born during a Saturday evening telephone conversation he had with church member Jacqueline Deese, who asked what the church could do to help the storm refugees.
It was decided the church would pass out food, he said. The church’s intention “blew up” on Facebook, according to James.
The church’s members gathered at the Welcome Center at 10 a.m., James said. The service was held and tables then were set up, food was laid out and they started feeding the people.
Sharon Hunt, assistant to the city manager who is managing a warehouse where items are being collected for Hurricane Harvey victims, loaded up Councilman Burnis Wilkins’ truck with items that were distributed at the Welcome Center.
At least five other churches came with more food to feed hungry, weary travelers, James said. Local firefighters also came and donated soup to the cause. People fleeing Irma’s wrath were offered hamburgers, pizza, chicken and rice, hot dogs and more.
“We had more food than we could give away,” James said.
James said was told that the Welcome Center manager told one of his congregation members that more than 1,000 people were given food.
“I know we did over 600 hot dogs,” James said.
The food giveaway ended shortly after 6 p.m., James said. The food that wasn’t given away was packed up and taken to Camp Grace, a Christian camp in Fairmont.
Some refugees are stopping and staying at motels and hotels in Lumberton, said Angela Sumner, Lumberton Visitors Bureau executive director.
“We do have people who are refugees from Hurricane Irma staying at the 22 properties in Lumberton,” Sumner said.
The Visitors Bureau has been polling the motels and hotels since the middle of last week, she said. There has been an increase in business, but some rooms are available.
The Visitors Bureau is submitting the booking information it receives, and the names and telephone numbers of the hotels and motels to visitnc.com, the state’s official tourism site, so it can be further disseminated to state welcome centers and to other tourism and lodging websites, Sumner said. Lodging information also is placed on the Lumberton Visitors Bureau website, www.lumberton-nc.com. People fleeing Hurricane Irma or returning home also can get information about rooms available in Lumberton by calling 1-800-359-6971.
One of those refugees was Isabel Herman, a Coral Springs, Florida, resident who was at the Holiday Inn on Monday.
She and her family arrived Friday and they probably will head back home today, Herman said. They had intended to stop in Georgia. But, when the storm warnings were issued there they decided to go farther north.
Eugene Baranowski and his wife and two dogs ended up in the Hampton Inn in Lumberton even though his original intention was to ride out the storm in his home in Clearwater, Fla. His son begged him to leave after hearing that the storm’s eye would pass close to Clearwater.
They originally stopped in Georgia, but it was a bad experience, Baranowski said. There was no gasoline to be found.
“Trying to find gas in Georgia was like trying to find a needle in a haystack,” he said.
All the restaurants were closed, Baranowski said. They had to eat potato chips for dinner one night. They had their first good meal of the journey when they got to North Carolina on Sunday.
Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974. Staff writers Reid Beaman and Tomeka Sinclair contributed to this report.