Julie Patrick was taking her loss in stride.
“I needed new carpet anyway,” she quipped as a cleanup crew ripped soaked beige carpet from the floors of her apartment.
Patrick has lived in the apartment at the end of West Davis Street for three years after moving back to her hometown after 25 years in Ohio. She didn’t expect to be moving again so soon.
“I moved back in with mom,” Patrick said, grimacing slightly as she carried lamps and other furnishings to her SUV. “I didn’t think I’d ever have to do that after being on my own for so long.”
But then rain from Hurricane Matthew started pushing waters from the Neuse River closer to her two-story apartment. “The town came by on Sunday and told us, ‘You better get out,’ ” Patrick said. “So we did.”
She carried little more than her cat, Zoey, to her mother’s house on higher ground in Smithfield. Patrick never imagined that she’d return to eight inches of water in her home.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “The river’s never gotten this close. It’s a mess.”
But as she trudged in and out of her house salvaging what wasn’t waterlogged, Patrick cracked jokes at her own expense. “I never wanted lakefront property,” she said, leaving a trail of muddy bootprints on linoleum that had already wrinkled.
On Tuesday, the Neuse had receded enough for Patrick and a crew from Parrish Cleaning Services to get into the apartment. Water still covered the lowest steps leading from her deck, but that was an improvement: The day before, it had swallowed all of them.
“I don’t even want to look in there,” Patrick said of the shed on her deck.
In what was once a backyard for the apartments, several feet of water still stood on Tuesday, even though the Neuse had retreated from its historic crest of 29.09 feet – two feet above the previous record from Hurricane Fran in 1996. The floodwaters encircled trees and a neighbor’s trampoline.
Patrick vowed to return to her apartment once it’s made whole again. “I love it here,” she said. “I always have. I won’t leave because of this.”
“We’ll get it all fixed up,” Patrick added as the cleanup crew hauled out carpet dripping with water. “It’s bad, but it could have been worse. A lot of people have it worse.”
Jim Snyder is likely one of those. The house he rents is right on the river, just past Patrick’s apartment building. On Tuesday, it remained reachable only by boat. And while the house is on stilts, a line left by the receding Neuse suggested that water had climbed at least two feet into his home.
“It’s gone down a lot,” Snyder said of the water hemming in his home.
“It was up to that telephone box before,” he added, pointing to the utility box on the side of his house.
Snyder, who hoped to get into his house on Wednesday, said he had been staying with a friend since the storm.
“I think the deck on the other side probably is separated from the house,” he said. “I’ve never seen it like this.”
Snyder had lived in the house for about three years but has lived in Smithfield much longer. He remembers Hurricane Fran in 1996 and said it was nothing compared to Matthew.
“It rained for 36 hours straight,” Snyder said of Matthew, which dropped more than a foot of rain on parts of Johnston County. “Fran came through, and it was bad, but then the eye came over us and everything was quiet. Then it moved on.”
But even when Matthew’s rains relented, the damage was far from done. The river crested on a sunny, cool Monday, flooding areas that were fine during the storm.
“You couldn’t even get down here earlier,” Snyder said. “I’ll just have to wait and see when the water goes down more.”
Like Patrick, Ron Nichols rents an apartment, but he’s only in Smithfield part-time on business. He lives in High Point.
“I’m just here to see how bad it got,” he said. “I was out of here more than a week ago, but no one thought it would be this bad. It’s just an apartment, though. It can be fixed.”
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
Johnston County residents affected by Hurricane Matthew can seek assistance by calling the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 800-621-3362 or by going to disasterassistance.gove. Have the following information ready when you apply:
▪ Social Security number
▪ Address of the damaged home or apartment
▪ Description of the damage
▪ Information about insurance coverage
▪ Telephone number
▪ Mailing address
▪ Bank account and routing numbers for direct deposit of funds