Power is slowly being restored and the Lumber River is gradually receding, but the city of Lumberton is still in deep water.
“People are thirsty, they’re hungry, and they want a shower,” said Steve Reavis, site coordinator for the N.C. Baptist Men and Women Disaster Relief Ministry. Baptist volunteers, working with the Red Cross, set up Tuesday night at Hyde Park Baptist Church in Lumberton and started serving meals at lunch Wednesday. The Red Cross provides the food, the Baptists cook it and the Red Cross distributes the meals.
“Hamburger patties, green peas, fruit, a cookie and a bottle of water,” Reavis said, and people were glad to get it; about 2,400 came to the church to eat, about 900 of them on foot. Another 2,400 or so meals were distributed at emergency shelters and out the windows of Red Cross trucks that drive around and stop where they see people.
Lumberton and surrounding Robeson County have been hit hard by flooding from Hurricane Matthew, which came not quite two weeks after a night in late September in which storm after storm rolled through the area dropping heavy rains, 10 inches in some areas. When Matthew came along, bringing another 10 inches or more, “That water had to go somewhere,” said Kelli Blue, Robeson County’s finance director who is serving this week as a spokeswoman.
It seemed to go everywhere, spreading out across Interstate 95, U.S. 301 and smaller arteries. It went into people’s homes and businesses – at least 500 structures – prompting rescue teams in boats to fetch people and haul them to dry land. Even as the water receded in parts of the county Wednesday, it was rising in other parts, Blue said, so rescues were continuing and 1,700 people were being housed in four shelters around the county.
All three of the utilities that serve the county have reduced the number of their customers without power, Blue said.
Outside Lumberton, generators are being used to pump water, so rural customers now have service. Those served by Lumberton are not so lucky; the city’s water treatment plant remains flooded and all service is out, Blue said.
In addition to state and federal agencies that have come to help, local residents and businesses are doing what they can to alleviate the pain. A Food Lion store in Lumberton brought in three semi-trucks full of bottled water to give away Wednesday; it was gone in three hours.
A church in Red Springs set up a feeding station and a clothing giveaway, and a few restaurants that are able to operate have been giving out free meals.
In addition to the mobile kitchen, the Baptist relief group also brought a shower station and a laundry truck, both operating on a limited basis. They use water the agency is bringing in on a 5,000-gallon tanker, which travels back to Harnett County each night for a refill.
Photographer Travis Long contributed.