LUMBERTON — In the wake of devastating flooding from Hurricane Florence, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper came to Robeson County Thursday morning with the promise that: “We’re here with you for the long haul.”
Cooper, who has been a constant presence on television and in flood-stricken communities, met with local officials at the Emergency Operations Center. The media crowded into the EOC, where more than 100 county officials and volunteers were busy manning phones and working on computers.
The governor’s entourage toured flood damage, a shelter and Hyde Park Baptist Church, where the Baptist on Mission, once again, are handing out thousands of free meals.
“I know Robeson County is reeling right now from two 500-year floods in less than two years, Cooper said. “It’s a punch in the gut.”
Cooper said his flyover of the region revealed the impact of Hurricane Florence’s devastation, “house after house, business after business and church after church.”
“Knowing how it affects people’s lives makes me all the more determined to help,” the governor said. “Right now, we still have people in the water, and we need to get businesses up and running.”
Cooper said the losses from Florence will run into the billions, and he will hold the federal government accountable. Joining his group was Albie Lewis, the Federal Emergency Management Agence coordinator for North Carolina.
The focus at this point is short-term help, Cooper said. He praised the work of the National Guard, FEMA and state officials who came to Robeson’s aid in the wake of the flooding. In the EOC on Thursday were representatives from the state Highway Patrol, public schools, local law enforcement, county officials and a group of volunteer emergency administrators from Charlotte.
Local and state preparations before the hurricane and execution afterward received high praise from an unusual source, the Cajun Navy Relief, an ad hoc group of volunteers who come together during floods across the nation. County, state and municipal elected officials were also on hand.
“The state and local groups were well-organized and -prepared,” said J.R. Hammond, a Nashville, Tenn., resident who is from Bladenboro. “This was not as willy nilly has we have seen. Harvey, for instance, was a disaster.”
Lumberton City Councilman John Cantey was one of those who was “punched in the gut.” His home was flooded for a second time. “I am just trying to look after people at this stage,” Cantey said. “We’ll worry about other things later.”
Cooper also seemed pleased with the relief work, but warned of the path to recovery ahead.
“We have a lot of work to do, and we’ll work together,” he said. “Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
“What I have seen in the eyes of people is hope, determination and resilience,” Cooper said. “This is what I believe the people in Robeson County have.
“North Carolina loves Robeson County,” he said.
The hurricane hit over the weekend, dumping as much as 2 feet of rain in the city and county.
The Lumber River, which crested at just more than 25 feet, a record, has receded some in recent days but projections are for it to rise again this weekend. There are reports across the county of new flooding.
The city’s water plant continues to function, but city officials continue to urge conservation.
Most of the electricity throughout the county has been restored, with Duke Energy still with the most outages, 4,947.
The number of people in shelers had dwindled to 739s.
Efforts are now turning to help people in the short-term, with churches and other organizations providing food, and the city and county working together to collect items to disburse later to those who have lost a lot or everything. The warehouse to donate items is at 2300 N. Cedar St.
Scott Bigelow can be reached by email at [email protected]