Inside his family’s wrecked mobile home, 10-year-old Gerardo Hernandez holds his nose to block the mildew smell, stepping gingerly over soaked floorboards that buckle under his feet.
He points out the septic tank with a loose concrete cover and explains that snakes have been slithering out of it.
Across the way, his friend Maria Rivera, 13, explains that water rose so high inside the Eddins Mobile Home Park that toilets filled up with mud.
She leads a tour through piles of wet mattresses and sacks of garbage piled chest high, the wreckage pulled from 30 single-wide mobile homes with brown water stains halfway up the walls and spots of black mold appearing on the ceiling.
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In the middle of it, near where the family Bible is drying on a porch railing, Rivera spots a colorful piece of paper in the mud.
“My painting!” she says, picking it up and reattaching a red ribbon that lays nearby. “This is from the art show. I got second place.”
The mobile home park sits within sight of well-traveled N.C. 50, an easy walk from Newton Grove’s traffic circle. More than 200 people in this community, most of them migrant workers who tend and pick tobacco, saw water from Beaver Dam Swamp rise up to 10 feet high, soaking their clothing, spoiling their food and carrying off their furniture.
Many of their homes now have holes in the floor and loose walls that wobble. Dozens reported that the landlord had driven through quickly and advised them to pull up carpets.
“That’s all he said,” said Mary Lott, 63, who has lived in her single-wide for 27 years and now has sewer gas seeping in through a broken pipe. “But after carrying the carpet up, where you going to go? No more good to stay in here. No more good. Little snakes through here. Little snakes.”
A call to Manuel Lopez, whom neighbors identified as the landlord, went unanswered Thursday.
After Hurricane Matthew struck on Saturday, residents huddled inside their cars or slept on couches in their still-wet living rooms.
“They had a lobster in their house,” said Maria, pointing to a neighbor who endured a crawfish invasion.
“Two fishes died over there,” Gerardo reported.
Neighbors said the mobile home park holds as many as 300 people when full, and that its population fluctuates depending on work. Some travel back and forth to Mexico, others to Florida.
Maria Rivera’s father Tomas, 42, said his family of five has spent the last 13 years at Eddins, where he works whatever job he can. Most of the residents, he said, are employed by a group called Los Panchos, which carries them by bus to the fields.
“Everything gone,” he said. “Sleep in my van. My wife. My family. Everything no good.”
On Thursday afternoon, five days after the storm, the Sampson County Department of Social Services arrived to say a shelter would open at Hobbton Middle School. Once there, officials explained through a translator, they could apply for disaster aid.
Volunteers from Smithfield hauled more than three truckloads of blankets, shoes, orange juice and homemade meals Thursday. Two Red Cross volunteers from Kalamazoo, Mich., arrived in a van to pass out supplies. One of them, Jim Kowalski, described the garbage-strewn community as “a mess.”
“It’s so soon after,” said his wife, Nancy. “The wheels aren’t in motion yet.”
Many residents asked how long they would need to stay. Some said the wood would dry out eventually, allowing them to stay. Others, like Martin Rodriguez, who moved to Eddins three months ago and has spent the storm’s aftermath on a mattress under a patch of black mold, will just move on.