ROCKINGHAM — Picking up the pieces after a hurricane is difficult without water and electricity, and more than 1,000 Duke Energy customers in Richmond County are still without power for the fifth day in a row.
Several residents — responding to Monday’s Facebook update from Richmond County Schools stating classes would resume on a two-hour delay Tuesday — criticized the school board and superintendent for the decision.
Reasons cited in replies to the update included the facts that many people had no electricity, no water for bathing or washing clothes, had lost refrigerated food due to spoilage, and that the schools would not be serving students breakfast.
Others insinuated the school district should not only have postponed the re-opening of schools, but should have opened schools to serve as shelters for those without power and food until electrical services are restored.
County Emergency Services Director Donna Wright said no shelters were opened initially because of the same problem other Duke Energy and Pee Dee Electric customers faced.
“The reason there were no shelters was there was no power at the shelters,” she said. “The shelters are Richmond Senior High School, Hamlet Middle School, Mineral Springs. Those are designated because of the capabilities to put people in it, and the staff support and support for cooking. The shelter committee chose them for those reasons.”
Late Monday, the Richmond County Schools Facebook Page announced power had been restored to all of the district’s schools.
“We try not to disrupt the schools,” Wright said. “We don’t want shelters running while schools are in session. As far as them consulting with us, they let us know once they make a decision. If they’re using the schools, if school is in session, we don’t want to interfere with that.”
Wright said state and local agencies warned people ahead of time to brace themselves for the dangerous storm.
“We were all told to prepare for power outages that could last for several days, to make emergency supplies kits so they are prepared for this,” she explained.
Wright also said she understands tensions run high after days without electricity.
“I know it is inconvenient when you don’t have the luxuries you’re used to everyday,” she said. “The crews are definitely working and doing an amazing job. At this point, I don’t think there will be any shelters open. And the only shelter with shower capabilities is the high school.”
“Richmond County Schools was contacted by EMS on Sunday,” said Dennis Quick, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services for RCS. “The district had lined up personnel and staffing. However, apparently the need to use our sites never arose. EMS is a partner of our school district, and we’re always prepared to assist them when needed.”
Asked whether the school board might consider rethinking its decision to open schools while so many homes are still without power, Superintendent Dr. Cindy Goodman replied in an email through district spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin.
“We will continue to monitor power outages in the district and how our families are affected and make decisions on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “We continue to believe that even for families with water or power, schools are the safest places for our students to be. Principals have been instructed to excuse absences if a student provides a written note from their parents saying they were without water or power.”
By 3 p.m. Tuesday, the school district announced another two-hour delay for students and staff on Wednesday — but this time, with a “grab-and-go breakfast” available for students upon their arrival.
Scotland County Manager Kevin Patterson said Scotland County opened a shelter during the worst of the storm, but closed it not long afterward.
“We opened a shelter Saturday morning and it was closed around 9 or 10 Sunday when the last person left,” Patterson said on Tuesday. “I think the people who came to the shelter expected loss of power, and just were concerned about being blocked into their homes. All of our schools were still closed today. Yesterday at 5 p.m. we had three schools without power.”
He said he sympathized with Richmond County Schools officials and the reason for their decision to re-open.
“The flip side to this is getting back into a sense of normalcy,” Patterson said. “The schools have heat. They have running water for sanitary needs. At least while they are in school, they have hot meals and full facilities.”
But Patterson also said he understands the difficulty of coping without electricity.
“If you don’t have power — and especially if you don’t have water — your patience runs extremely thin very quickly,” he said. “A lot of peoples’ tempers are going to run high. But one significant thing we’ve seen here is a lot of people getting together to get things to the people over in Robeson County.
“There, they have that flooding, and the Lumber River is not expected to begin subsiding before Thursday,” he continued. “Not having power, and having to turn to friends or family for showers or meals, it’s not easy. Scotland County and even Richmond County dodged a big bullet with it. No loss of life, no significant injuries.”
Patterson also praised the teamwork of agencies throughout the immediate region.
“On the EMS side, the interaction between local governments, counties, cities, the hospital systems — all of those, that sharing that happens during such an event went really well,” he said. “All the counties in this region were able to rely on each other for a variety of types of needed assistance.”
In a 4 p.m. update, Pee Dee Electric published a Facebook post announcing all its service outages due to Hurricane Matthew are repaired. At the same time, the Duke Energy interactive outage map reported 1,132 Richmond County locations still without power.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.