LUMBERTON — County officials on Wednesday began providing numbers to demonstrate the enormity of damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
It was also a day of photo ops as President Trump visited the state and assured its residents that the federal response would be quick and efficient. Tim Moore, the speaker of the state House of Representatives, visited Lumberton, and promised the state would work to unclog the Lumber River, streams, canals and tributaries to prevent similar flooding in the future.
Moore pointed out the state has $2 billion in reserves for such emergencies.
The General Assembly is prepared to go back into special session and make sure money is made available. Moore pointed out that the state has a $2 billion “rainy-day” fund for such emergencies.
“I’ve spoken to all our legislative colleagues and we’re prepared to come back and make sure the money is appropriated and make sure the money — once it’s appropriated — get’s out to where it’s supposed to be,” he said at the Emergency Operations Center.
According to the U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger’s office, no precise measurement of the Lumber River was available because the gauges were underwater and getting to them was hazardous. But his office said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated the river at 23.7 feet, and that it would drop Wednesday and Thursday before rising this weekend to more than 24 feet again.
According to county officials, there have been 478 people evacuated from their homes, and another 2,238 decided to stay when contacted. The U.S. Coast Guard has conducted three water rescues, evacuated almost 20 residents as well as six pets, and helped rescue three horses that were trapped in high water.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 1,030 of evacuees in county shelters.
Most people who get their electricity from Lumberton, Red Springs or Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation had power. Exact numbers from Duke Energy were not immediately available, but an outage map showed only two areas in Robeson County with outages in excess of 50 and they were Lumberton and St. Pauls. State Sen. Danny Britt posted on Facebook that he had talked with Duke Energy and it had promised 800 additional crew would be sent to the county to get power restored.
Lumberton officials were continuing to ask water customers to conserve. The water plant, which was swamped by Matthew and offline for a month, was working, but only about 2.4 million gallons were being processed a day because six wells were underwater and the plant’s direct river intake was down as well.
City Manager Wayne Horne said on Tuesday that only about 2 million gallons were being used a day and thanked residents for their conservation.
Crews working in high-flood areas have determined that nine buildings have fallen, 31 more have been destroyed and 510 structures have received some type of flood or storm damage.
Emily Jones, a public information officer for the county, said, “We need to give a special thank you to Colorado and Oklahoma Task Force 1 groups, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard who have helped with all these estimates and rescues.”
Those numbers are expected to grow as more assessments are done.
So far, there has been one death associated with Florence, an 83-year-old Maxton man whose car fell into a sinkhole on Monday.
County and city officials continue to advise people to travel only if necessary as new areas of flooding are constantly being reported. Alamac Road, which had been closed to all but emergency vehicles, has been reopened to everyone, but county officials say that could change again.
“We are constantly evaluating roads and encouraging residents to check waze, ReadyNC, or NCDOTs page for the latest information about roads,” Jones said.
More and more businesses, including restaurants and retail establishments, were springing back to life across the county and in Lumberton.
The Robesonian was working toward putting out a print edition again and hopes that happens for the Friday paper. In the meantime, the newsroom staff is populating robesonian.com and using Facebook to inform readers.
A curfew from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. remained in effect for the county and most municipalities, with the exception of Pembroke.
The county and city have centers open to collect needed items for distribution later. The city’s is at 2300 N. Cedar St., which is where small vehicles and trucks should go, and the county’s is at the farmers market at the Southeastern N.C. Agricultural Events Center, which is where large trucks are being directed.
Efforts to provide hot meals continue at many area churches, and Meals Ready to Eat will be distributed by the National Guard at 6 p.m. at various fire department throughout the county. A list of the sites is in today’s paper.