Community, art and music came together to recognize the struggle Hurricane Matthew brought to Robeson County and the surrounding area during the Hurricane Matthew
Commemoration on Oct. 5—two days before the one-year anniversary.
“Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Matthew. Where were you?” Chancellor Cummings asked.
N.C. representatives, FEMA representatives, students and the community attended the event to celebrate the progress made by the community. UNC President Margaret Spellings was in attendance, as was Mike Sprayberry, director of North Carolina emergency management and representatives from Gov. Cooper’s office.
Held in the UC Annex, refreshments were served before the speeches began. A large painting by Nila Chamberlain and Joy McDugan, titled, “River’s Wrath” graced the back wall. A musical selection of the same name was performed by Mark Andersen, documenting the feelings brought by Hurricane Matthew: uncertainty, fear, loss of hope, togetherness and finally, the light at the end of the tunnel.
“We usually have technology to help compose music. Last October, there was nothing, but a man and his piano,” Dr. Andersen said. “Out of the hopelessness, this piece came.”
Photographs of the disaster by Dr. James Bass were displayed, as well has research posters and newspaper pages documenting the hurricane from the Pine Needle, Robesonian and the Fayetteville Observer.
Chancellor Cummings welcomed the attendees and led a moment of silence in honor of the lives that were lost. He then thanked the Lumbee Tribe and Dr. Spellings for their efforts in restoring the community and UNCP to its former glory in the wake of “unprecedented destruction.”
Congressman Robert Pittenger, N.C.’s congressional representative, took the stand next—by way of video. Sent from D.C., Congressman Pittenger spoke on the resiliency of North Carolina and offered an update. He has been advocating for a better budget regarding FEMA assistance. FEMA has allocated $1.28 billion for North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. $70 million is designated for Robeson County, following a freeze on NC funding that was lifted Oct. 2.
The Lumberton Housing Authority received $11 million from FEMA.
The keynote speaker, Sprayberry, touched down on UNCP’s football field in a helicopter with former Governor Pat McCroy just days after the disaster. He spoke of the state rebounding from the hurricane.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, 660 roads were closed, and now, a year later, only two remain unavailable. Emergency preparedness was another topic—previously Sprayberry “preached” having a three-day emergency kit on hand, now he urges a five-day kit.
Sprayberry continued on, also mentioning the “unprecedented” flooding in Robeson County and the “heartbreaking” shelters. He was also impressed by the influx of volunteers that came after Hurricane Matthew touched down.
“You cannot have a successful emergency response program without volunteers,” Sprayberry said, referring to those volunteers from the community, the Red Cross, Church groups and non-profits that banded together to provide food and shelter to those in need. “There is no problem, when we are working together, that we can’t solve.”
Sprayberry’s thoughts and prayers went out to Puerto Rico and the destruction caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Sprayberry sent his own people to assist Puerto Ricans in their recovery after the tragedies.
A round table discussion was held during the commemoration, which allowed the five expert panelists to share their personal experiences and hopes for Robeson County. Speakers included Stephanie Chavis, Robeson County Emergency Services; Dan Gerlach, Golden Leaf Foundation; Libby Turner, FEMA and Patrick Woodie, the Rural Center.
All panelists commended Robeson County for its resiliency and hoped the disaster could better the community through ways of revitalization. The panel was moderated by Dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. Jeff Fredrick.
Before Chancellor Cummings closed out the night, Spellings took the podium to offer her own remarks.
“One of the most remarkable things about public schools are how useful they are,” Spellings said. “The UNC system family came together, it was a family affair.”
Spellings referred to her time at UNCP last year as full of hugs. For the future, she offered encouragement to the community for continuing to rebuild after an incredibly difficult year.
After thanking Spellings, Chancellor Cummings brought to a close an emotional night, coming full circle with his original question.
“I want you to think back to a year ago, where were you? During the peak of chaos and
confusion. Think of how you felt. I, personally, felt proud and hopeful. Hopeful we could hold
on to the community we had,” Chancellor Cummings said. “Remember, when Robeson County
puts away pride and focuses on each other, that is the way forward.”