When Flo Coward looked out her window on Friday morning, she saw that the street in front of her house had been covered by the rising Neuse River.
“Yesterday we didn’t have all this water,” Coward said. “It all came up this morning.”
Fed by rain-soaked tributaries in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, the Neuse River rose more than a foot at Kinston in the 24 hours ending at noon Friday and was expected to continue rising another half a foot before cresting Saturday morning at 28.8 feet, about a foot higher than the record set after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The river’s flood stage here is 14 feet.
As the river continues to creep into town, residents are closely monitoring water levels and helping neighbors who have already fallen victim to the floodwaters.
Coward and her East Shine Street neighbors stood on their front lawns, watching waters slowly creep above the street’s curb and into their yards. Neighbors brought Coward sandbags from a local church and were helping her seal the home’s doorways.
“This is a tight-knit community,” she said. “So everybody helps each other.”
Coward, whose mother moved into the house in 1947, has lived here for most of her life, and said the water’s never come up this high, even following Hurricane Floyd.
After Matthew’s rain and wind subsided, leaving their homes untouched, Coward and her neighbors said they felt their prayers had been answered.
“Honestly, we really thought we were OK,” Coward said. “We forgot about the water.”
Neighbors on East Shine Street said they had talked to others who were worse off, and many of Coward’s neighbors closer to the river had evacuated.
Some other Kinston residents are unable to get back to their homes to see how they were faring. Brother and sister Myrtle and Thurman Taylor have been living with their cousins since Tuesday when they left the home they share.
“We’d have to swim,” said Myrtle Taylor, 74. “And I can’t do the backstroke.”
The family survived earlier hurricanes. When their homes got flooded, Thurman Taylor, 71, said he remembers having to kill snakes that came in with the water.
They had moved to higher ground before Hurricane Floyd struck in 1999, but their home was destroyed anyway. Then they moved to their current home, expecting to avoid future floods, but once again they’re surrounded by floodwaters.
“We’ve spent our life moving higher and higher and higher,” he said.
Friday afternoon, Precilla Tyson of Grifton had turned her booth at a Kinston McDonald’s into an office, as she tried to fill out Federal Emergency Management Administration paperwork. Tyson said she thinks that most of her belongings are probably ruined, because the waters around her double-wide trailer looked to be at least waist-deep Friday.
“It’s rough,” she said. “The whole little Grifton community around that area is pretty bad.”
Tyson, the mother of four children and two grandchildren, stayed in her home during the storm but packed some clothes and other belongings and left earlier this week as the water began rising.
She said she has been living with a friend this week but plans to move into a shelter on Monday, until she figures out what to do next.
“I don’t cry until I think about it,” she said.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802