Anx­ious jour­ney to check flooded home, then re­lief

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - WEATHER -

Elmer McDon­ald rolled up his blue jeans and sloshed into the an­kle-deep flood­wa­ter on his street. The cool wa­ter was the color of strong tea.

In his left hand, he car­ried keys to his trailer. The 36-year-old fa­ther of four hoped to find out ex­actly what Hur­ri­cane Matthew had left be­hind.

McDon­ald — known as Moe to his friends in Lum­ber­ton — had tried to re­turn Mon­day, Tues­day and Wed­nes­day, but each day, the cur­rent was too strong, the wa­ter too deep. Maybe Thurs­day would be the day he fi­nally got in­side. The wa­ter on the street had re­ceded and now cov­ered only about a city block.

The sky was bright blue, the sun not too warm. It would have been a per­fect fall day if folks here weren’t deal­ing with the worst nat­u­ral dis­as­ter to hit this city in a gen­er­a­tion.

McDon­ald was one of thou­sands who evac­u­ated. About 1,200 peo­ple had to be res­cued by boat or plucked from their roofs by he­li­copters. Two of North Carolina’s 22 fa­tal­i­ties oc­curred in Robe­son County, where Lum­ber­ton is the seat.

Peo­ple through­out the flood zone are anx­ious to get back to their homes to see what is sal­vage­able. Many, like McDon­ald, do not have flood in­sur­ance.

With an As­so­ci­ated Press re­porter and pho­tog­ra­pher in tow, McDon­ald set out. He walked with rhyth­mic splashes up the road’s dou­ble yel­low line and talked of his life — how he was from Bal­ti­more, how he’d once been shot in the foot and been home­less.

Maybe that’s why he wasn’t scared when the wa­ter deep­ened, first to his calves, then his knees, then his hips.

“I’ve been through a lot, a lot of stuff. This right here ain’t both­er­ing me.”

A soggy sofa sat half sub­merged, mak­ing one won­der what else was in the wa­ter.

“Every­thing. All kinds of stuff. Snakes, wa­ter moc­casins, maybe a gator. Trash, de­bris. There’s prob­a­bly all type of metal and glass in here,” he said.

McDon­ald’s kids range from 16 months to 17 years old. None was home at the time of the storm. Be­fore the rain, the lit­tle ones went to stay with their grandma, who has wa­ter and power.

He and his wife didn’t leave un­til the wa­ters rose. They hastily piled every­thing they could grab onto ta­bles and coun­ters, then packed a few items and fled. McDon­ald re­turned to try to get pa­per­work out of a car in his back­yard, but the wa­ter was too high. He helped neigh­bors move their cars to higher ground.

What he wasn’t able to do: grab his tools.

“I’m a workin’ man,” he said. “I got my own con­struc­tion com­pany, roof­ing, but it don’t look so good now be­cause all my tools prob­a­bly gone up the river.”

All of the homes on the street were en­cir­cled by brown wa­ter. One fam­ily had to leave dogs be­hind.

“‘Man, the wa­ter’s com­ing up, y’all gotta get outta here,’ I told that guy,” he said, point­ing to a neigh­bor’s home where a fluffy dog barked. McDon­ald said the dog had been on the hill in back of the prop­erty, but he guessed it some­how swam to the porch. That neigh­bor was go­ing to try to get to his home later Thurs­day, he added.

“I just hope that peo­ple don’t move, that ev­ery­body can save their houses,” he mur­mured.

At McDon­ald’s prop­erty line, there was a dip in the earth and his feet hit rocks.

“The last time I come through here it was this deep,” he said, mo­tion­ing with his hand at the top of his stom­ach. The wa­ter was now knee-deep.

As he ap­proached his home, his gait slowed. The wa­ter rip­pled through the yard.

“It’s about what I ex­pected it was go­ing to be like,” he said. The grass of his front lawn felt slimy and soft be­neath his feet.

The lit­tle brown and white home was sur­rounded by wa­ter. Surely it too would be in­un­dated. How could it not?

Brac­ing his hands on the wooden stair rail lead­ing to the front door, McDon­ald stepped gin­gerly. The wood had grown slick in a mat­ter of days.

“I had a boat tied here and got three trash bags of clothes when I made this crayon mark,” on the sec­ond step, he said.

He stuck the key in the door and looked down. The beige car­pet was slightly damp, not sop­ping wet. Every­thing else was dry. His eyes went wide as he scanned the dark liv­ing room. “Oh my good­ness,” he said. “It’s amaz­ing. It’s amaz­ing. I thought it was all go­ing to be gone. It’s a bless­ing. That’s what it is.”

Slowly, he walked into the kitchen, which smelled like rot­ting food. The floor was dry. He opened the back door, and the cov­ered wooden porch was dry, too. The rem­nants of the fi­nal grilled din­ner he had with his wife were still in a pan.

The car out back was mostly sub­merged, as was his shed with the tools. But al­most every­thing else was un­scathed.

“It’s all right,” he said. “I didn’t think I was go­ing to see this when I came home. I thought every­thing was go­ing to be gone. I think it’s still liv­able. I hope so.”

He knows he won the equiv­a­lent of a coin toss in the dis­as­ter game. Some of his neigh­bors and many fel­low Lum­ber­ton res­i­dents will not be so for­tu­nate.

It’s un­clear if there will be hid­den, lin­ger­ing prob­lems. Are the floor­boards un­der the car­pet all right? Is the foun­da­tion solid? And what of his tools? Will he be able to re­turn to work soon?

For peo­ple like McDon­ald who live mostly pay­checkto-pay­check, the af­ter­math of a storm can grind on for weeks and be fi­nan­cially dev­as­tat­ing.

But for now, he’s cel­e­brat­ing his good luck. As he walked through his trailer, he showed a lit­tle grin and grabbed a bot­tle so he could wade to the neigh­bor’s and give the thirsty bark­ing dog some wa­ter.

“And I al­ways com­plained about how small it was,” he said. “I won’t ever do that again. I’ll never com­plain again.”

PHO­TOS BY BRIAN BLANCO — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Af­ter com­ing across a Jeep sur­rounded by flood­wa­ters as­so­ci­ated with Hur­ri­cane Matthew, Elmer McDon­ald in­spects the in­te­rior to make sure no­body is in­side.

Elmer McDon­ald makes his way along a flooded street on Thurs­day as he re­turns to his Lum­ber­ton, N.C., mo­bile home for the first time to in­spect dam­age caused by flood­wa­ters as­so­ci­ated with Hur­ri­cane Matthew.

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