An aerial view of Lumberton, North Caroline, home to tens of thousands of Lumbee tribal members, after Hurricane Matthew drenched the area with so much rain that dikes and dams burst, flooding out thousands of people.

Lumbee Tribe of NC Emerges Slowly From Hurricane Matthew Flood Waters

Sheena Louise Roetman

As flood waters recede, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is assessing damage and charting a path toward recovery for thousands of members who lost everything from a season’s food supply to entire homes and businesses.

And that damage is considerable.

“The devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew was tremendous and deadly,” the tribe said on its website on October 15. “Families were left homeless or without electricity, and businesses were destroyed. In the first week after the storm the flooding has begun to recede in some parts of our communities but our relief and recovery efforts must continue.”

At the same time, the tribe expressed gratitude for the prayers and donated supplies.

“The outpouring of generosity, love, support and prayer has been overwhelming,” the tribe said. “The prayer service held yesterday was a true testament of unshaken faith, hope and love. Through countless donations from individuals, families, businesses and tribal nations, both locally and nationally, we have been able to provide water, food, diapers and other basic supplies to those affected. Every contribution, great or small, has a lasting impact and we cannot thank you enough.”

Hurricane Matthew ripped through the southeastern coast of North Carolina, causing widespread flooding and power outages that particularly affected Lumberton, home to many of the Lumbees’ approximately 55,000 members. It killed 26 people as it drenched the eastern part of the state with four months' worth of rain in 12 hours, according to the Fayetteville Observer.

Tribal Chairman Harvey Godwin said that due to bursting dikes and dams, about 50,000 people were affected, even though the hurricane had weakened to a Category 1 by the time it hit the state.

“We did have a disaster plan in place,” Godwin said. “But this exceeded everybody’s imagination of what we thought the storm would be like.”

While they’re used to being in a hurricane zone because of the shape of the state and the typical route of storms coming up from the Caribbean, this went beyond anything the tribe had seen, he said.

“Lumberton is a town that has these dikes around it protecting it from the river,” Godwin said. “And it just rained so much, more than anyone could ever imagine or remember.”

Because the area is low-lying, even areas not near the Lumber River, which exceeded crest records by four feet, were flooded. The tribe, in partnership with the American Red Cross and state agencies, conducted a house-to-house evacuation, relocating people to shelters. Lumbee tribal offices were closed for days, and the Lumbee Boys and Girls Club in Pembroke, eight miles from Lumberton, was used as headquarters until the offices reopened on Monday October 17.

The most immediate hurdle to overcome was access to food and clean water, Godwin said, noting the irony that “water did this devastation, and then you need bottled water to survive from it.”

Complicating the water issue were flooded hog waste lagoons, Cape Fear River Watch Executive Director Kemp Burdette told WECT News.

“This is bacteria that can make people pretty sick, and you’ve got people that are out trying to take care of their property and out trying to salvage what they can in rising waters,” Burdette told WECT. “If you’ve got a cut on you or this water splashes up into your face, anything like that, it’s likely to make you pretty sick.”

Immediately after the hurricane, stores were closed due to lack of power, leaving people without basic necessities such as toothpaste and diapers. Dole Foods and Campbell Soup Company have donated nonperishable food items, and financial donations are coming in from all over the country.

“This is rural, agricultural, North Carolina, and a lot of people have freezers where they can freeze vegetables straight from their garden, and meat,” Godwin said. “They’ve lost all of that.”

Donations are being accepted at the Lumbee Tribal Offices in Pembroke. The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe is also collecting supplies, with collection centers at Buckhead Fire and Rescue, and at Waccamaw Siouan Tribal Center. A PayPal account has been set up for monetary donations.

In addition the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) sent out an alert during its annual convention last week.

“Due to Hurricane Matthew and extensive flooding, North Carolina tribes are in need of assistance for supplies and contributions,” the NCAI said in a statement on October 12. “The Waccamaw Siouan Tribe is also coordinating supplies to be taken to the Lumbee Tribe.”

The devastation is widespread and will be long-lasting, Godwin said, with numerous people flooded out, businesses and homes alike. Power was still being restored to much of the area as of Wednesday October 19.

Those affected include “middle-class working families who have lost all their life’s accumulation,” Godwin said. “It’s going to be an ongoing process for a long time.”

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