LUMBERTON — Less than one month after suffering the ravages of Hurricane Florence, Robeson County leaders and residents are turning their eyes toward another approaching storm, preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
As of late Tuesday afternoon Hurricane Michael had developed into a major hurricane and was bearing down on the Florida Panhandle, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was about 295 miles south of Panama City, Fla., and was moving north at 12 mph and packing maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. It is expected to move inland over the Panhandle Wednesday night and to surge across the Southeast toward the Carolinas, with Robeson County in its path.
As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service was reporting tropical storm force winds are possible during Thursday in Robeson County. A tropical storm watch and a flash flood watch were in effect Tuesday afternoon for all Northeast South Carolina and Southeast North Carolina.
“We had a conference call with North Carolina Emergency Management, Wilmington NWS and Raleigh Weather Service,” County Manager Ricky Harris said.
There is a risk of tornadoes Thursday afternoon into Thursday night, according to Harris. Tropical storm force winds of 30 to 40 mph and gusts of 40 to 50 mph are expected that day, and the Lumber River will reach flood levels that are anticipated to affect low-lying areas. Weakened trees, yard debris and ground saturation could cause additional damages to property and possible power outages.
Emergency Management personnel and county “decision-makers” are to meet Wednesday to discuss the latest information, said Stephanie Chavis, Robeson County Emergency Management director.
“My concern, hurricanes are bad, but for me tornadoes are worse because they just pop up,” Chavis said.
City Manager Wayne Horne said city officials are monitoring the storm and prepared to act accordingly.
There is some good news.
“It’s going to be weakening greatly before it gets to you guys, however heavy rains, expect 4 inches with isolated higher amounts,” said Dave Loewenthal, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Power outages are expected as a result of weakened trees being hit by winds of 40 mph or stronger, Loewenthal said. And there could be a chance of minor river flooding in two or three days, but the flooding isn’t expected to be as bad as with Florence.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, the Lumber River was at 11.8 feet. The flood stage is 13 feet.
“Our team of meteorologists are monitoring the storm, so we have the best plan in place to respond,” said Grace Rountree, a Duke Energy spokesperson. “In advance of the hurricane, Duke Energy power restoration crews are staged to help restore power as soon as it is safe to do so. Line technicians are checking equipment and supplies to ensure adequate materials are available to make repairs and restore power outages.”
Duke Energy is anticipating power outages across the Carolinas, she said.
Duke customers are asked to report all power line hazards by calling 800-769-3766, for Duke Energy Carolinas customers, and 800-419-6356, for Duke Energy Progress customers.
Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation could not be reached.
As the storm nears the Panhandle, Robeson County residents are, once more, getting ready.
“We’re seeing some preparation, but customers don’t seem as worried about Michael as they were for Florence,” said Brandon Wilcox, assistant manager of Lowe’s Home Improvement in Lumberton.
Customers were getting tarps Tuesday to protect their roofs from damage, he said. They also were buying insect repellent, sand and sandbags, cases of water, mold killers, bleach, and generators.
“I think a lot of folks were prepped for Florence, and it’s easy to get back in that mode,” Wilcox said.
There has been an uptick in sales at the Food Lion on Elizabethtown Road in Lumberton, Tristan Purvis, grocery manager, said Tuesday.
“We’re ordering much more than usual, extra water in case we lose power, and a lot of Chef Boyardee, Beanie-Weenies, and Vienna sausages,” Purvis said. “We’ve ordered four or five more cases of Vienna sausages than usual.”
Robeson County residents are showing the signs of stress caused by the knowledge that they are in the path of a third major storm in two years.
“We have a lot of people expressing frustration about the storm,” said Pastor David Ruth, of First Presbyterian Church in Lumberton. “They’re going out, getting food and gas.”
People are worried about their lights going out again, he said.
“I’ve seen that it may not be nearly as bad as Florence, but we’re still more anxious than ever before,” Ruth said.
The church is playing host to a group of volunteers, the Church of the Brethren, he said. They’re trying to decide if they should go or stay.
“Considering the range of experiences during that aftermath of Florence and Matthew, the threat of the storm is likely to bring reactions equally as varied. Some may see this as greatly stressful while others will not,” said Charla Suggs, a licensed professional counselor and assistant director of Counseling and Psychological Services at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Robeson County residents are psychologically vulnerable at this time, said LynnDee Horne, a licensed professional counselor and director of Counseling and Psychological Services at UNCP.
“Loss and recovery take a great deal of effort and emotion from us,” Horne said. “The residents of Robeson County could feel weary when thinking about another storm that could impact this area and the repercussions of those effects.”
However, local residents are resilient, she said.
“This area has endured many storms, thus the residents understand what it takes to work through the challenges any storm brings their way and they have come together as a community and addressed those challenges before,” Horne said.
The Disaster Distress Helpline is intended to help people during a time emotional need. The number is 1-800-985-5990.
Reach T.C Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer David Bradley contributed to this report. Bradley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or email@example.com.