LUMBERTON — Evacuations, both mandatory and voluntary, were being conducted throughout Robeson County on Sunday as the Lumber River and area drainage canals began to overflow into neighborhoods and across roadways.

The conditions were a result of Hurricane Florence, now a tropical depression, which has been battering the Cape Fear region with wind and torrential rain since Friday. The National Weather Service in Raleigh said Florence had dumped 16 to 18 inches of rain on Robeson County over the last 72 hours. Rainfall in Lumberton had averaged 10 to 12 inches. There were reports of areas that had received as much as 21.5 inches.

Many areas are flooded, prompting mandatory evacuations to be issued Sunday morning for West and South Lumberton in the county's town seat.

“They are going door to door to get the word out to everybody,'' said Lumberton Director of Emergency Services Bill French. “It's a precautionary measure. So far the dam or dykes are holding. But with the rising water we didn't want a situation like we had with Matthew.''

Both South and West Lumberton experienced devastating flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, which hit the region in October 2016.

City SEATS buses and county school buses were being used to transport people in the evacuated areas to one of five storm shelters open around the county. Pickup points were at the Burger King on West 5th Street and the Pembroke Fire Department in Pembroke.

Emily L. Jones, a spokeswoman for Robeson County, noted at 12:35 p.m. Sunday that more than 1,300 people were in shelters  at Lumberton High School, St. Paul's High School, Purnell Swett High School, Fairmont Middle School and South Robeson High School. South Robeson was opened as a fifth shelter Sunday morning. The Bill Sapp Center in Lumberton also was opened as a storm shelter.

Lumberton subdivisions such as Mayfair, Oak and Highland Park, as well as areas around Robeson Community College, were already heavily flooded and many residents had voluntarily evacuated. Jones said as many as “30 to 40'' county roads had been closed due to flooding or downed trees and power lines, including sections of Interstate 95. North and southbound lanes of I-95 in Robeson County were shut down between mile markers 13 and 22.

Jones also said the county was under a boil water advisory. But French said Lumberton's city water, which was out of operation for about a month after Hurricane Matthew, is still working.

“The plant was inundated during Matthew and basically knocked the generator off,'' French said. “But several months ago they built a berm around the water plant to help protect it. And once this (Florence) started they fortified it even more. As of this morning, they were still processing water from our raw wells. As long as the plant can run on the generator we'll have water.''

Swift water rescue teams from Lumberton and Colorado have been deployed and have assisted with some of the evacuations, according to French. None of those were emergency situations. Jones said one of the teams had been dispatched about 11:15 a.m. Sunday to rescue animals.

 

Staff writer Sammy Batten can be reached at sbatten@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3534.