LUMBERTON — As Hurricane Matthew slogged toward to North Carolina on Saturday causing widespread flooding in Robeson County, residents of low-lying areas were being asked to evacuate and thousands of people were without power.
By 4 p.m., 11.8 inches of rain had fallen in Lumberton, according to the National Weather Service, and a 66-mph wind gust was recorded at the Lumberton airport. “Most streets” in the city of Lumberton were flooded by mid-day, according to an alert from the city, and residents were being evacuated with the help of Lumberton police. The National Weather Service also reported widespread flooding in Pembroke and said water was entering some homes. The North Roberts Avenue office of The Robesonian was flooded, putting production of the print newspaper on pause.
“Robeson County is under a major flash flood warning and according to information received from the National Weather Service, we have not experienced the peak of the storm,” Robeson County Emergency Services Director Stephanie Chavis said in an afternoon update.
A 5 p.m. update from the National Weather Service says another 1 to 3 inches of rain could fall in Robeson before Sunday morning.
Matthew made landfall early Saturday near McLellanville, S.C., before slowly moving northeast, placing Robeson and surrounding counties under a tropical storm warning. Parts of Interstate 95 in Robeson County, from mile marker 25 to 33, were closed Saturday evening. City officials denied reports that the levee along the Lumber River at West Fifth Street in Lunberton was in danger of failing, although the river had risen to about 15.5 feet by late afternoon.
Officials opened an additional two emergency shelters on Saturday as more roads became impassable. Extra emergency responders were on hand Saturday as city and county officials urged residents to stay off the road unless absolutely necessary. The Fayetteville Observer reports that one Robeson County firefighter was injured by a falling tree.
Among the areas experiencing flooding are: N.C. 904/Gerald Road, Elrod Road, Iona Church Road, Covington Farm Road, Alfordsville Road, Horne Road, Turkey Branch Road, North Chicken Road between Evergreen Church and Paul, N.C. 41 and Old Stage Road, Rennert and Great Marsh roads, Fair Bluff and South Creek Road, Singletary Church Road, Industrial Drive near N.C. 41, Chickenfoot Road to Lovette Road, Chickenfoot to Alamac Road, Popes Crossing Road, Pittman Street and Church Street, and Watts Road.
Chavis said a full report on what roads had been flooded likely wouldn’t be available until at least Sunday, when crews can safely assess conditions.
By noon on Saturday, about 50 people had sought refuge in shelters set up by the county. Shelters were opened at Purnell Swett High School, Red Springs High School, South Robeson High School, Carroll Middle School and St. Pauls High School.
At 3 p.m., more than 14,000 utility customers were without power across the county.
A state of emergency was in effect for all of North Carolina as storm surge battered the coast.
“I cannot stress enough how serious an issue this hurricane could be for North Carolina, not only in damaging structures, but also risking human life,” said Gov. Pat McCrory. “Beware that this will be a prolonged event that will not end tomorrow when Matthew moves away from North Carolina. We are particularly concerned about rivers cresting throughout the week causing severe and potentially life threatening flooding. We are prepared and ready for this turn of events. Be safe, be prepared and listen to your local officials now more than ever.”