LUMBERTON, N.C. (CN) – Residents of Lumberton, a small city near the North Carolina coast, claim in court that the CSX railroad’s refusal to allow officials to berm an rail underpass ahead of Hurricane Florence allowed a catastrophic flood to submerge their homes and businesses.
In a class action filed on Monday, Jimmy Edwards, Robert and Delores Hunt, and Emma and Clifford McKeller claim that during and after the hurricane, water from storm-swollen rivers flowed unimpeded through the underass, which passes beneath Interstate-95 and cuts directly through a city levee.
The plaintiffs say the flood waters have destroyed their homes and livelihoods, and that their property values may never recover.
According to the complaint, CSX refused to allow city officials to build a temporary berm to prevent the anticipated flooding and threatened to sue for trespassing if the city attempted to do so.
It was not until North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an emergency order that hundreds of volunteers, city workers and National Guard members were enabled to build a temporary wall of sandbags.
This effort ultimately failed to mitigate damages, the plaintiffs claim. Officials of Robeson County issued a mandatory evacuation for the entire southern part of Lumberton on Sept. 15, after the Lumber River flooded.
Lumberton has a 35 percent poverty rate, which is two times higher the amount of North Carolinians living under the poverty line, contributing to the potentially long-term impact of financial loss in the area.
Hurricane Matthew submerged Lumberton in 2016, leaving the town underwater for days. It is for this reason that plaintiffs in the suit allege that CSX had prior knowledge of the dangers the underpass imposes during emergency flooding situations.
“It is important to point out that Hurricane Florence was an extraordinary storm that brought record flooding and left many communities throughout the region devastated including Lumberton,” said a CSX spokesperson in an emailed statement. “CSX has extensive operations in the impacted communities where so many of our employees, customers and suppliers call home.”
The company said in the statement that it remains fully committed to working with the City of Lumberton to implement a permanent solution, but it declined to comment further on pending litigation.
The director of public works for Lumberton could not be reached for comment.