Survivor, a kitten, joins man seeking shelter during Florence
NEW BERN, N.C. — From his seat on the back of a small jon boat, Robert Simmons Jr. surveyed the floodwater in his neighborhood in northwest New Bern. The water, which spilled over from the Neuse River during Hurricane Florence, turned streets into canals, divided by rooftops.
It was waist deep on some of those streets and deeper still on others. All around, street signs and trees poked through the water, offering landmarks to a terrain that even longtime residents found unrecognizable. Simmons has lived here his entire life — 40 years — he said, and now he didn’t recognize anything.
“We done been through Bertha, Fran, Irene, Matthew,” he said Friday afternoon, sitting in the small boat and ticking off the names of hurricanes that had come through his part of eastern North Carolina. “And this is the worst it’s ever been, in this part right here.”
Simmons told the story while a kitten peered through the top of his rain jacket. Simmons had taken the animal with him on the boat. The kitten clung to Simmons, as if a newborn clinging to his mother, and while Simmons spoke, the kitten mewed.
Both were wet. Both wore tired expressions.
A photo of Simmons and his kitten went viral — a moment that seemed to capture how thousands like Simmons felt as the storm slogged through the area and water continued to rise, threatening houses and livelihoods.
As the hurricane stalled over southeastern North Carolina, Simmons sought refuge somewhere else, like thousands of others. His story is among hundreds of similar ones here.
Midway through his boat ride, his kitten climbed out of his jacket. He climbed on Simmons’ back, and then perched on his shoulder. For a moment it looked like they took in the scene around them together.
It looked like they were close, the man and his young cat, and Simmons smiled at the thought.
“I feed him,” he said. “I’m an animal lover.”
He said he could have never imagined this, riding atop the water and out of his neighborhood. While his house was dry, he was worried about his father, not knowing how he would fare.
”Never seen it like this,“he said. ”Not right here in this area. My grandma stayed on North Hills Drive, across the highway. And they flooded out. That was - I think that was Bertha, when she flooded out.“
Simmons said he’d had the cat for weeks, and yet when asked what the cat’s name was, Simmons gave an answer that almost sounded scripted, and too good to be true. Perhaps he’d improvised in the moment.
The kitten’s name, Simmons said, is Survivor.
Soon their ride ended. Simmons walked down a quiet road, toward a nearby shelter, with Survivor holding on.
Robert Simmons Jr. and his kitten, Survivor, made their way to a nearby shelter after Hurricane Florence dumped several inches of rain in New Bern, N.C. overnight Friday.