Skip to Main Content

A Tale of Two Hurricanes: How We Saved One NC Town from Two Catastrophic Floods

Two years ago, when Hurricane Matthew hit the city of Lumberton, N.C., the flooding was far worse than anyone had expected.

The Lumber River rose to 22 feet — 9 feet above flood levels — and the water poured out over everything. Interstate 95 was submerged, as was the city’s water treatment plant. In the aftermath of the storm, Lumberton’s 22,600 residents had no running water.

Back in 2016, FEMA brought Sunbelt Rentals in to help. We set up four 18” Quiet Flow™ pumps with emergency manifolds on the levees to pump out the water that had inundated the city. But at the time, that was about as much as we could do. We just didn’t have enough pumps in our arsenal to accommodate the dire needs in the city of Lumberton.

We knew that wasn’t good enough, for us or for our customers. And over the past two years, we’ve been building that arsenal should the need arise again.

Earlier this fall, it did — as Hurricane Florence loomed large off the coast of North Carolina.

At points, the storm was expected to far exceed Hurricane Matthew in intensity. More than that, though, it was forecasted to bring with it a massive amount of rain. So, we reached out to Rob Armstrong, the public works director in Lumberton, to offer up as many pumps as we could to prevent a repeat of Matthew.

The city had built a temporary dam to keep water out, but Rob wanted a contingency in place in case it didn’t hold. 

Turns out, the city was going to need one: Just 12 hours into the storm, that temporary dam broke.

Fortunately, as Hurricane Florence was making landfall, Sunbelt Rentals was mobilizing and setting up four 18” Quiet Flow™ pumps. When the dam broke, Rob requested more pumps to preserve the town’s potable water supply. So we mobilized another three 18” pumps with 18” fused suction. Then, we decided to add another two 18” pumps, just to be safe.

Once we had the equipment selected, we had a find a way to get all those pumps to the job site, despite flood waters that had once again submerged key access roads across Lumberton.

We worked with Citation Logistics and Moffat Pipe to secure a Department of Transportation escort to guide us through the streets, aiming for those exits on I-95 that were still passable. They then pitched in to help set up all the pumps once we arrived.

Partnerships like that were critical in meeting a tight timeline under extreme conditions — but we did it. A week after we’d placed the initial call to the city of Lumberton, nine Quiet Flow™ pumps were in place. Better yet, the town’s supply of running water was flowing freely.