Much of Robeson County is still recovering from the flooding damage caused by Hurricane Matthew. Despite the rumors, the levee in Lumberton did not actually break, though the Lumber River did overflow its banks in numerous locations. Many homes in the area were flooded by knee-deep water or higher. Emergency shelters were set up in county schools that also had no power. Estimates were as high as 2,000 people being displaced. The campus reopened on Monday, and Chancellor Cummings used the opportunity to make a formal address to employees and to any students who had returned ahead of Tuesday’s classes. He was joined by Student Body President Logan John. The Chancellor made a point to raise spirits despite the challenges Hurricane Matthew left. He ended his speech by reminding attendees about UNCP’s mission and how it relates to this disaster, “In closing, we talk a lot about our mission— about changing lives through education. Over the past 11 days, the lives of many of our students and employees have been profoundly—profoundly impacted. For them this is a critical time, for them their lives, their frame of reference now forever for the rest of their life will be before the storm, and after the storm. This disaster has the potential to derail dreams, to derail visions, to derail ambitions. UNCP can not allow that to happen and we will not allow that to happen because this is where people come to vision, this is where people come to dream and where dreams come true. We are going to stand by you people, we are going to make this happen.”
Flooding in North Carolina kept the National Guard busy as they performed water rescues throughout the state. Lumberton is one of the cities inundated with high water after Hurricane Matthew. Of the known deaths blamed on Matthew nationwide, at least 17 were reported in North Carolina. The flooding continued in some riverside towns where boat and helicopter crews have rescued thousands. Major rivers in the state were expected to be above flood stage for most of the week after the hurricane.
According to the Robesonian Newspaper, there are 290 people remaining in emergency shelters in the county. There were seven shelters serving the county originally, some were schools, who at least had running water if not electricity, such as South Robeson High School . Those have now been consolidated to two facilities. Various distribution sites have been set up around Robeson County for clothing and other supply donations.
Rescue teams in North Carolina were using helicopters to pluck people from their roofs, and boats to reach people down below. Emergency crews in Lumberton say they were trying to save some 1,500 people who were stranded by the flood. The FAA suspended flights in the area so choppers could go in more safely to rescue people, while officials stressed that people not try to drive their cars through flooded roads, where the depth can be deceiving. Deaths during the hurricane were attributed to drowning in cars and ditches.
The campus of UNCP lost power in the afternoon of October 8th, after Hurricane Matthew hit the region. The next morning students woke to flooded roads and parking lots; still without electricity. Several campus facilities were unapproachable, and many thoroughfares on and off campus were nearly impassable on foot, and certainly not by most vehicles. Students were encouraged to leave campus as best they could. Although no gas stations could operate, those who were temporarily stuck tried to huddle around the two solar chargers on campus. With the electricity out, cooking and refrigeration was a problem. As a solution, Sodexo served sandwiches or hamburgers, to feed as many students as they could, regardless of their meal plan status. Students were in pretty good spirits on the first day, before the long-term effects were apparent..
Damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew left the UNCP football without a practice or game field for a week. It took days for the flood waters to be absorbed or to evaporate, but by that time players were staying in an out-of-county hotel and living off of fast food. Undaunted, staff in the program found workarounds, even though they themselves had trouble getting to work. It may be cliche say it took a team effort, but Coach Richardson praised that initiative and was grateful for assistance.
Fall Break was already scheduled for Thursday and Friday, but the ongoing power outage and flooded roadways and parking lots meant the entire week of classes and activities was canceled, including online classes. The phone lines for campus police were restored by Monday. Chancellor Robin Cummings provided this update on Tuesday, October 11:
“In an effort to facilitate information sharing, we have created a website to house frequently asked questions pertaining to academic and student affairs questions. You can submit questions to email@example.com. All questions and answers will be posted at uncp.edu/askuncp.
Emergencies should be directed to Campus Police at 910.521.6235 or 911.
At this time, if anyone needs counseling services, please contact campus police and they will be able to connect you with a UNCP CAPS counselor.
This afternoon we have fewer than 80 students remaining on campus. We assure you all students will be taken care of and have access to food and water.
Again, if you are leaving campus, we urge you to be off the road by nightfall as conditions can quickly become dangerous in the dark. Adhere to any local curfews. The Lumber River continues to rise, which presents transportation challenges. Access to campus from I-95 is still limited at best. UNCP is still accessible from the west; please check NC DOT for road closures before leaving. Information is available at the following link: https://www.ncdot.gov/traffictravel/
Remember, ALL UNCP STUDENTS ARE BEING FED ON CAMPUS WITH OR WITHOUT MEAL PLANS. The dining hall will be open Wednesday 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
UNCP appreciates the outpouring of generosity from fellow universities and state institutions, including NC State University among many others. In addition, we have received offers of support on behalf of UNC President Margaret Spellings and Governor Pat McCrory.
While the safety and security of our students is our top priority, our thoughts and prayers remain with the people of southeastern North Carolina who have been impacted by Hurricane Matthew, particularly those in Lumberton, which has been especially hard hit. The university is engaged in ongoing communication with authorities to determine how we can continue to assist. Last night, the university prepared meals for National Guard and emergency operations personnel. And today I had the opportunity to interact with UNCP students volunteering at an emergency shelter at Purnell Swett High School.
True to UNC Pembroke’s core value of service, many of you have asked how you can help those in need. We encourage you to consider donating to the American Red Cross, UNCP Care Resource Center or directly to the Robeson County Emergency Operations. Detailed information about these giving opportunities was sent in a separate e-mail and will be posted on how you can help.
As for campus operations, at this time, we know utility crews are working to repair main hubs of power to Robeson County. We do not have a definitive estimate at this time on a timetable for restoration.
In addition, many of our faculty and staff continue to face hardships. We have heard many stories of our employees in heavily impacted areas of the region who are facing personal challenges associated with the loss of utilities, downed trees, and flooding at their homes. We want you to know we are fully in support of you and your families.
We will continue to update the campus community as additional information is available.
Robin Gary Cummings