Lumberton still recovering six months after Matthew

Lumberton still recovering six months after Matthew

LUMBERTON, NC (WMBF) - Six months after Hurricane Matthew battered the area, the city of Lumberton continues to recover after being hit especially hard.

Families are still out of their homes and West Lumberton Elementary School is the only school in Robeson County that has not opened its doors back up.

Before Hurricane Matthew, West Lumberton Elementary School had 151 students. It currently has 120 students and nine families are still living out of hotels. Principal Tara Bullard said all teachers and students are still using a building next to Lumberton Junior High for their classes.

The hallways inside West Lumberton Elementary, and the school's exterior, are still the same. Pumpkins sitting out front in October are still there, and rotting.

"It just kind of looks like an abandoned building with a bunch of stuff still here. It's really just kind of heartbreaking," Bullard said.

The only salvageable books and school supplies are still sitting inside the media room, where hundreds of iPads, books and computer cases were lost.

"Anything that is carbon based, we were asked to kind of steer clear from trying to save. I want to see some things change and some movement in the right direction," Bullard said.

The insurance companies and FEMA applications and paperwork all takes much longer than people think. Bullard said it isn't something anyone can prepare someone for.

"We are strong and we are going to be OK regardless. I just hope we have taught our kids how to be resilient. They taught us how to be resilient," she said.

Before Hurricane Matthew, Bullard said West Lumberton was 1-to-1 technology based, but not anymore.

The West Lumberton Elementary media teacher applied for the grant without anyone knowing, and a $10,000 Beyond the Words grant was awarded to the school. Bullard said that money is awarded to a school in the United States that has particularly suffered loss from a natural disaster.

"We are just ecstatic that we were chosen to receive that money because, as you can imagine, $10,000 just to re-establish a media center, buying books, some technology things we will be able to use that money for. It's just a very significant, hopeful start to, you know, something new and better," Bullard said.

When the lessons of the school day end and students leave their borrowed classroom, some also return to borrowed houses. Linda Brewer and her three children are one West Lumberton Elementary family who have still not been able to move back home.

"It's been so long since I used my house key, I don't which one it is anymore. There's probably hundreds of people here in Robeson County that needs help, still wondering where am I going to be next month, am I going to be in my home or sell my home. I mean it's just, you don't know what to say or what to expect day to day, next month, next year. Am I still going to be there? I don't know," Brewer said.

Brewer said her kids ask every day when or if they will be able to return back to familiarity. Her husband has done all of the rebuilding work so far.

Progress is moving slowly for two generations who have lived inside their home and walked the hallways of closed West Lumberton Elementary.

"My sister went to this school, I went to this school, my husband went to this school. Just about everybody who is in this neighborhood that is in their 50s has gone to this school. So, we really want that school back," Brewer said.

Hope currently surrounds the students. It hangs in the hallways and on the borrowed school windows. Everyone hopes they'll survive the test of Hurricane Matthew and rebuild stronger than before.

On the table at next week's Robeson County School Board meeting is discussion about whether to remain at Lumberton Junior High School, consolidate schools, renovate West Lumberton or close it down for good.

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