Sur­vivor, a kit­ten, joins man seek­ing shel­ter dur­ing Florence

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

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.

An­drew Carter / The News & Ob­server via Associated Press

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.

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