Mobile Water Units
Help Recovery Efforts
in Lumberton, N.C.
BY SCOTT WHITTAKER
After leaving a trail of destruction in Haiti, Hurricane Matthew methodically made its way toward the southeastern coastline of the United States. As it
arrived just off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, on October 8, 2016, the National
Weather Service classified Matthew as a Category 1 hurricane
with winds reaching 75 miles per hour.
While Matthew battered many towns along the southeastern coastal region, it left a lasting mark on one town in particular — the city of Lumberton, N.C. With torrential rain and
high winds, Matthew swelled water levels in the Lumber River, causing the levee that parallels Interstate 95 to overflow.
This caused massive amounts of flooding, leaving the town’s
water treatment facility under
four feet of water and causing outages of the power grid and backup
power systems. The residents of
Lumberton had not experienced
such levels of flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
The flooding left equipment
used to sanitize drinking water and
extract sediment damaged and
inoperable. The floods completely shut down the City of Lumberton Water Treatment Plant — the
town’s sole water treatment facility
— increasing the risk of elevated pathogens and other contaminants in the water supply, effectively leaving the population with no fresh water.
With flood waters engulfing the plant, City Manager
Wayne Horne publicly stated that there was no way to determine the amount of time it would take to restore the water
plant and get fresh water flowing again.
Days later, as the flood waters began to recede, federal,
state and local officials began damage assessments. Officials
were then able to estimate that it would be at least several
weeks before the town could have fresh water. State water
experts expressed concern that the town’s water supply may
have been breached by bacteriological contamination. Without testing to confirm contamination, officials warned residents to boil their tap water before using.
The town of Lumberton faced a serious crisis. With
the water treatment plant off line, the more than
20,000 residents would be in dire need of safe drinking water. Given the mandate to get fresh water into
the homes of the residents, North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) Area Coordinator Eric Wiseman arrived at the Lumberton Water Treatment Plant with one goal:
get the plant back on line.
“When I arrived, here was a plant that had gone from mak-
ing about 7 million gallons of water a day to making zero.
Nothing was coming out of it whatsoever,” Wiseman said.
“This was serious [getting the plant back on line] for the
people, serious for the health of the community and serious
for the economic impact of the community to get something
flowing through the water lines to the town.”
Wiseman faced multiple challenges in his efforts to get the
water flowing again. The plant had been under four feet of
water for several days, leaving essential water treatment and
electrical equipment in ruins. The county power grid and on-
site backup generator also were destroyed. Getting mobile
(Above) GE’s mobile water units delivered the needed 5 million gallons per day, moving the city of Lumberton closer to a
sense of normalcy after Hurricane Matthew.
(Left) North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) Area
Coordinator Eric Wiseman arrived at the Lumberton Water
Treatment Plant with one goal: to get the plant back on line.