LUMBERTON — The city is making progress toward restoring water and electrical services to its residents following the devastation of Hurricane Matthew.
Lumberton City Manager Wayne Horne said Tuesday afternoon that crews had been able to energize an electrical substation on U.S. 74, one of three in the city that need to be restored before the lights can be turned on. Horne said he hopes the “majority” of circuits will be running Wednesday. The city serves about 10,000 utility customers.
Horne cautioned that internal batteries at the station still need to charge before circuits can be turned back on, and doing so could illuminate other issues in the system. Officials are hopeful they can bring the Fayetteville Road station back up next, and redistribute the load accordingly to serve areas that would have been reached by a Water Street substation, where floodwaters from the swollen Lumber River remain high, although it is receding.
“If we can get some of those circuits to hold we can get some essential services up, like stores,” he said.
The Lumberton water plant is still shut down in a paradox of having too much water and too little water at the same time. The plant was without power Monday and shut down. Public Works Director Rob Armstrong said the floodwaters at the plant are too high to reach the facility now, but once the water recedes, the city has a large-scale pump on hand it can use to pump out remaining water inside the building. Restoring water will also take some time as water pressure in the system needs to build back up.
“We’re asking all our citizens to please be patient and unless there is a definite need to call in and ask about when power will be restored, please try not to do so because we need to leave our phone lines open,” said Public Services Director Linda Oxendine. “We have citizens that have been rescued and temporarily housed in shelters that family members throughout the United States are trying to locate and we want to reconnect these families.”
Elsewhere in the county, 21,000 Duke Energy customers and 17,000 Lumbee River EMC customers are in the dark about when they will see the light.
Duke Energy, which says it has suffered “significant damage to our transmission system as well as our distribution system,” is estimating it can restore power to Robeson customers by 11:45 p.m. Sunday, an assessment that has remained unchanged since Monday. Across North Carolina, more than 824,500 Duke Energy customers have had their power restored.
Lumbee River EMC has been able to restore power to some customers in Robeson County, primarily north of Lumberton and St. Pauls. Most of the utility’s outages were attributed to damage to Duke Energy transmission lines.
“Unfortunately Duke has not been able to give us any estimated restoration times on those substations,” spokesperson Walter White said in a Facebook update at noon Tuesday. “At this point in time I can’t get give you anything definite on when power may be coming back to the county at large.”
White said the utility has been able to “back-feed from other substations” in order to restore power around St. Pauls. Crews were working in that area as well as Saddletree, Rennert Road near McDuffie Crossing Road, and Hammonds Road, he said.
Sarah Willets can be reached on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.