LUMBERTON — During a visit to Lumberton on Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory stressed that the city faces a long and expensive road to recovery in the wake of devastating flooding from Hurricane Matthew.
“From the state level, federal level, county level, city level, school level and also the nonprofit and business level (we are) working together as a team,” said McCrory at Sandy Grove Baptist Church, a stop that followed visits to West Lumberton Elementary School and the Lumberton water plant. “And that’s what is going to help this town recover as quick as possible. But Lumberton is going to go through a long battle ahead recovering from this tremendous hurricane because there are a lot of people hurting right now in this town.”
McCrory discussed schools, water, volunteer efforts, security and cleanup at a press conference outside of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive church, which was busy with people handing out donations. He also commiserated with Robeson County for the individuals here who lost their lives during the storm and also announced a fatality in Lenoir County related to Hurricane Matthew, bringing the total storm-related deaths in North Carolina to 28.
“It’s just tragedy when you hear of each individual story,” McCrory said.
The governor said that preliminary damage assessments are ongoing and will likely be complete next week and that his office is in the process of outlining a request for disaster relief legislation at the state and federal levels, which will include a projected timeline for a special legislative session.
As a high priority the governor said “we need to continue to raise money, especially for Robeson County … and several other counties,” then continued to talk about a specific need for cleanup.
“But the biggest message I’m getting here, to those listening across the state, we need cleaning supplies,” McCrory said. “Cleaning these homes we need brushes, brooms, shovels, detergent. A lot of detergent. Anything that can deal with mildew because this mildew is extremely dangerous at this time. These are towns and neighborhoods that were flooded with extremely toxic water. We’ve got to get all remnants of that water out of the way.”
Lumberton’s water system is at around 70 percent capacity, a significant feat for a system many feared would be inoperable for up to six weeks. McCrory praised Lumberton and corporate partners who aided recovery efforts.
“Another group of people we need to recognize here in Lumberton are the people who saved the water system and have not stopped working for 15 days to keep the water system going here,” he said. “I also want to thank General Electric for sending some incredible equipment down from Virginia. Without that I think Lumberton would be in even more serious shape.”
General Electric provided pumps and generators to run them, which helped clear the flooded water plant and send treated well water out for distribution.
In praising Robeson County’s cleanup efforts, McCrory singled out Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis for praise.
“Bruce Davis is an incredible leader,” the governor said. “He wasn’t afraid to call me from day one. That is what leadership is all about, not being afraid to make the ask.”
Security has been a concern for many as they leave their homes and earthly possessions behind. In an effort to keep people safe and to ward off looters, the North Carolina Highway Patrol has stationed well over 100 troopers in the Lumberton area.
“We are having to protect the residents here,” McCrory said.
Matthew hit on Oct. 8, dumping as many as 18 inches of rain in some parts of the county, and causing flooding that displaced as many as 5,000 people, some of whom are still in shelters. It knocked out power, disrupted water supplies, destroyed businesses and homes, and has been blamed for four deaths in Robeson County.
Reach Mike Gellatly on Twitter @MikeGellatly