On one side of a two-lane country road a little ways south of Kinston, a man was walking through thigh-high water carrying loads of plastic boxes, packed to the top with clothes and other belongings that he salvaged from his flooded house.
On the other side of the same road, another man surveyed the receding water, thankful that things weren’t worse for him.
It was Sunday, two days after Hurricane Florence slowly churned through southeastern North Carolina.
Luis Gallegos, 50, was the man in the water, carrying things from his house to the back of a pickup truck. Damp rugs hung over the railing outside of his front door, slowly drying in the sun. The water had been two feet deep inside the house, Gallegos said, and chest-deep outside.
“We feel bad, you know,” said Gallegos, who said he speaks limited English. “We lost everything inside.”
James Murphy, 69, was on other side of the road, just a little ways down the street. For days he’d been staying with a relative and now he returned fearing the worst — that water had found its way inside, and that perhaps he’d have to rebuild not just a home, but a life.
Instead he returned to his house to see that it had mostly been spared, the water filling some of his yard but spreading no farther.
“I thought it had got inside the house, but it hadn’t,” he said. “So I’m really blessed. Really blessed.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, the difference between destruction and deliverance, for some, has been the difference between living on one side of a street as opposed to other, or the difference between living a little farther west, as opposed to east.
That’s how it went on a quarter-mile stretch of Jim Baker Road, south of Kinston, where residents said they’d never seen such flooding.
Gallegos and his family received some of the worst of it. The water rose fast, he said, first covering the stairs on the patio and then flowing inside. Soon, he said, it covered the floor, ruining his rugs, soaking the home where Gallegos had lived for 10 years with his wife and two children.
By Sunday, the day he was loading his belongings into the back of the truck, the water inside was still a foot high.
“It’s real sad,” he said, surveying the scene from the edge of his front yard that now looked like a pond with a submerged house in the middle. His immediate plan in the aftermath was to salvage anything that could be salvaged: clothes, appliances, anything that wasn’t wet.
Several family members came to help load boxes into the back of the truck, and Gallegos said he’d take it all to Greenville, where he said he could stay for a while with a relative.
There would be no coming back here, though, after this.
“We need to move,” he said. “It’s no good right here.”
Before Hurricane Florence, Gallegos knew he lived in an area prone to rising water. And while it had risen before with more ferocity, and destruction, in other parts of Kinston, he said he could never remember it rising like this here, in the kind of neighborhood whose residents could least afford the fallout of a natural disaster. This isn’t a part of town known for its affluence.
Gallegos, a native of Mexico who said he’s lived for 30 years in the United States, makes his living in construction, as a roofer.
Murphy, the neighbor from down the street, said he worked for nearly 38 years with the Lenoir County school district. He said he was a paint foreman. He does OK, he said, what with his retirement and Social Security.
“God has been good to me,” he said. “A lot of people want the world — never (knowing) that the world ain’t promised to them.”
On Sunday, Murphy was walking down a dry stretch of Jim Baker Road, toward the part of it that was still under water. To his right was flooded farmland. In the distance were homes that had seen better days. Some of the yards were filled with old cars, their paint fading and their bodies rusting.
Now the latest flooding to arrive in Kinston will force Gallegos to move. He said he’d continue his roofing business in Greenville.
Murphy, meanwhile, would like to move, too — anywhere with higher ground. In the neighborhood, the flooding had brought people together the day before, on Saturday, for an impromptu dog rescue. About a dozen people gathered to save 18 dogs that had been trapped inside a house, and in a kennel outside. A day later, the neighborhood was quiet again.
Natural disasters, Murphy said, only bring people together “for a few minutes.”
“Hell,” he said. “Everybody wants to be for their self.”
He’d seen this story before in Southeastern North Carolina: the flooding and the loss and the attention, for a while, to the plight of people like Gallegos, who’d lost a lot of what he’d owned.
And then eventually, after a while, the cycle repeats.
This time, Murphy’s home was spared. He was thankful for that, yet he lamented that the water had risen so high in this particular place, on this particular street.
“The rich gonna get richer, the poor gonna get poorer,” he said. “That’s the way it always goes.”
Down the street a little ways, Gallegos waded from his pickup to his house, saving what he could for a new beginning somewhere else.
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