Irma drenches Robeson, but no significant problems

LUMBERTON — Irma left Robeson County a little wetter, but none the worst for wear as the hurricane’s remnants swept past the Carolinas Monday and Tuesday.

Now weather watchers turn their eyes toward a hurricane churning its way across the North Atlantic.

Hurricane Jose was hundreds of miles northeast of the Caribbean Islands as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service. It was packing maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and moving eastward at 7 mph. Both weather-watching services were predicting Jose to loop toward the northeast away from the United States during the weekend, stay in the Atlantic and earn the informal designation of “fish storm.”

No storm watches or warnings have been issued for the North Carolina coast. But as with all hurricanes, only Mother Nature knows for sure what Jose will do in the coming days.

The past few days in Robeson County were ripe with worry and speculation that Irma would bring heavy rains and damaging winds. City and county governments took the precaution of opening office on a two-hour delay on Monday. While the Public Schools of Robeson County released students at noon on Monday and opened two hours later than normal on Tuesday.

Today, the school district will be back on its normal schedule, according Tasha Oxendine, a schools spokesperson. And none of the schools reported damage.

Lumberton and Robeson County government leaders also reported no damages as a result of the wind and rain experienced Monday evening and early Tuesday.

An average of 2 inches of rain fell on Robeson County during a 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, and there was some scattered rain after that. The strongest recorded wind gust was 36 mph at Lumberton Municipal Airport at 6:54 p.m. Monday.

The weather did prove to be a bit troublesome for some Robeson County residents.

There were a few scattered power outages in the Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation service area, said Walter White, director of marketing. None of the power losses were large and repair crews had power restored quickly in all instances.

White couldn’t say Tuesday afternoon how many customers lost power or where.

“None of them were large enough to come to my attention,” White said.

The lack of large-scale power outages did allow LREMC to dispatch crews to Georgia to help with the Irma recovery.

“We wouldn’t cut anyone lose until we were sure we had power back for all our customers,” White said.

The corporation dispatched five line crews and two tree crews to Barnesville, Ga., he said. Three of the line crews were contract crews with East Coast Construction, and the tree crews were with Buford Tree Company, which contracts with LREMC to do tree trimming and cutting jobs.

“In total about 30 men were sent to Georgia this morning,” White said Tuesday.

Only one customer in Robeson County reported a power loss overnight, said Caindice Knezevic, a Duke Energy spokesperson. And the utility company isn’t sure the loss was related to the bad weather.

“We don’t know a cause right now for that one because our crew is en route,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “So we don’t know if it was storm related.”

About 170,00 Duke Power customers in the Carolinas lost power because of the storm, Knezevic said. Power had been restored to about 160,000 as of late Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve been busy,” Knezevic said.

The return of the sun over Robeson County gave witness to Irma refugees from states south of North Carolina leaving the hotels and motels around Lumberton and returning home.

“Yes, the majority have,” Hampton Inn Lumberton General Manager Dan Robarge said of lodgers from Florida.

“All of our guests from Florida and Georgia have checked out,” said Crystal Chavis, front desk clerk for Motel 6.

“We had a lot of Florida guests come in on Thursday and some are still here,” said Ceara McCall, front desk clerk for Fairfield Inn.

With the spectre of Irma gone, thoughts can return to helping victims of past hurricanes in Robeson County and across the nation.

“We do have an ongoing effort for Hurricane Matthew, Harvey, and we are in communication with a group in Naples and Lakeland, Fla. We are waiting to know what their needs are,” said Sharon Hunt, administrative assistant to Lumberton’s city manager.

Hunt also oversees the collection of storm-relief items at the city warehouse located at 2300 N. Cedar St. in Lumberton.

“Matthew, Harvey, and Irma donations can still be donated here,” Hunt said.

They are still collecting furniture for the victims of Hurricane Matthew, she said.

On Tuesday these pallets of bottled water at a warehouse at 2300 N. Cedar St. were being prepared to be sent to Texas to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. Tuesday these pallets of bottled water at a warehouse at 2300 N. Cedar St. were being prepared to be sent to Texas to help victims of Hurricane Harvey.

By T.C. Hunter

Reach T.C. Hunter at 910-816-1974. Staff writer Reid Beaman contributed to this report.