LUMBERTON — With Hurricane Matthew slowing down and its track shifting north, Robeson County could be drenched in more than 8 inches of rain by Sunday night.
County officials announced the locations of three emergency shelters just as Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday expanded a state of emergency to all 100 North Carolina counties. With rain already falling in Robeson this morning, students and staff with the Public School of Robeson County will be dismissed at 1 p.m. today in anticipation of Matthew’s arrival.
The shelters will open at 3:30 p.m. today at South Robeson High School, located at 3268 South Robeson Road in Rowland; Gilbert Carroll Middle School, at 300 Bailey Road in Lumberton; and St. Pauls High School, located at 648 N. Old Stage Road in St. Pauls.
Additionally, the Lumbee Tribe has designated the Pembroke Boys & Girls Club as an emergency shelter, opening Saturday at noon.
The Robeson County Emergency Operations Center will be activated today at noon and will have two dedicated lines for storm-related issues: 910-272-5875 and 910-671-3842.
Robeson residents can sign up to receive emergency alerts from the county by visiting co.robeson.nc.us/code-red-information.
Matthew’s heaviest rains are expected to reach Robeson County on Saturday. At 8 this morning, Matthew was located about 45 miles southeast of Daytona Beach, Florida, and was expected to dump a foot of rain in coastal South Carolina, where evacuations were in effect.
A 7 a.m. storm update from the National Weather Weather Service in Wilmington upped earlier expectations for rainfall and wind speeds in Robeson County. According to the briefing, Lumberton could see as much as 8.44 inches of rain from Saturday at 8 a.m. to Sunday at 8 p.m., with St. Pauls looking at 7.45 inches. Elizabethtown could see 9.92 inches and Whiteville could see 11.6 inches. Southport and Wilmington are each looking at about 12 inches of rain by Sunday night.
“The biggest problem we’re going to have is rain and flash flooding … You want to stay away from those streets and roads that have wander standing on them. It doesn’t take much water to move a car or stall a car,” said Bill French, assistant director of Emergency Services for the city of Lumberton.
French said the drive home from work today should be safe, although motorists should be extra cautious and plan to stay off the road Saturday. If they must go out in the rain, they should slow down and be sure to use their headlights, he said. Residents can check road conditions on the Department of Transportation website at tims.ncdot.gov/tims.
Flooding is a main concern in Robeson County and other parts of Southeastern North Carolina, where the ground is already saturated from recent rainfall. According to the Weather Service, the Lumber River was already at flood stage by 7 this morning. The briefing says there will definitely be minor flooding, but puts the chance of a “major flood” at 20 percent.
Robeson County is under a flood warning, which states that the river is expected to rise to 15.8 feet by Sunday morning. Cox’s Pond and areas around Hestertown Road are likely to see flooding.
Stephanie Chavis, director of Robeson County Emergency Services, said Thursday there were no plans for evacuations in Robeson County. She said the potential for flooding was taken into account when deciding where to open emergency shelters.
Wind speed projections have also slightly increased. Lumberton could see peak sustained winds of 35 mph with maximum gusts of 51 mph.
The combination of strong wind and saturated ground means trees and limbs could fall in Robeson County, bringing power lines down along with them.
In the event of an outage, customers with Duke Energy can report an outage by texting OUT to 57801 or calling 800-419-6356.
The utility says it has more than 2,300 line workers at the ready, but cautions that employees can only come out to restore power if conditions are safe.
“We’ve stocked our trucks and warehouses, completed our readiness plans based on Matthew’s projected path, and coordinated with local, state and national emergency personnel to ensure we have the most optimized response,” said Bobby Simpson, Duke Energy’s Carolinas storm director.
Lumbee River Electrical Membership Corporation is monitoring the forecast and says if outages occur, it will “begin restoration efforts as soon as conditions are safe.” Lumbee River customers can report outages by calling 800-683-5571 or 910-843-4131.
Utility customers with the city of Lumberton can report outages by calling 910-671-3865 and Red Springs customers can call the Emergency Operations Center.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.