September 2000

Hurricane Floyd: One Year Later

On higher ground: Faith, friends help Manning rest easy

By Bryan Bass

When Kay Manning awoke at 6:37 on the morning of September 16, 1999, a gurgling toilet was the first sign that something terrible lurked at her doorstep. Toisnot reservoir, which lay a hundred yards to the east, had overflowed its banks and was quickly flooding her neighborhood.

Manning, a transfer coordinator at Greene Correctional Institution, said she walked to her window to take a look and "there was a lake." With water rapidly rising, Manning calmly made her bed, put on some work shoes, and grabbed a change of clothes, some food, a flashlight, jewelry and her Bible. After alerting her neighbors and disconnecting the power to her house, she attempted to leave. By that time, water was flowing in her house. With water at her car door, she gently slid into the vehicle. She prayed, "Dear God, let this motor crank." Fortunately, it did, and she drove away from her house for the last time as a resident.

Kay Manning in her destroyed kitchen
Kay Manning stands in the remains of her kitchen. Her house was among the many homes destroyed by Hurricane Floyd.

She headed for the house of her friend Robert Pierce. The usual seven-minute trip to Pierce's house became a maze of flooded streets and roads littered with fallen trees. Eventually, she successfully navigated her way to safety. But, the labyrinth of treacherous Wilson streets was only the beginning of Manning's troubles.

The house in which she had lived for 13 years was damaged beyond repair. At the height of the flooding, water reached as high as five feet, six inches inside her house. Contaminated floodwater ruined almost everything in and around her home, including a recently installed hot water heater, gas logs and entertainment center. Only two pieces of furniture and her Depression-era glass survived. All that remains in her house on Fleming Street are stripped walls, bare floors, exposed wiring and pleasant memories.

Kay Manning in her new kitchen
Brighter days now greet Manning, 
who said, "I'm no longer homeless."

Still, Manning is not bitter. She said that during the storm, she prayed only for her family to be safe and for the two large oaks in her back yard to remain standing. "I still have my job at Greene Correctional Institution, I did not get hurt and did not lose a family member. How very blessed and lucky I am."

She sees her situation as one of the trials in life we all must eventually encounter. "No person can be blamed; it was part of nature that came and passed, just as it is written in our Bible. Having faith to understand that is the best tool to use, especially in such a disaster. You can't stop it, change it, blame it or discard it. You can face it and deal with it."

In the months following Hurricane Floyd, she went back and forth between Wilson and Pitt Counties, spending a few weeks at a time with one of her sons in Winterville and Pierce.

Things have changed much since mid-September. Thanks to help from many friends, area churches, a Small Business Association loan, and her faith in God, Manning moved in April to a brand new house -- a house that sits on higher ground. Some of her former neighbors stayed to rebuild. While she can appreciate their need to hold on to their houses, she said, "Heritage is one thing, but safety is another."

Manning said that coping with the disaster "was made much easier by the love and inspiration of friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors and good hearted Christians and people you have never known or seen." Manning said that naming those who helped her would be futile because there are just too many people to thank. "If I voiced names, I'm sure I'd leave someone out," she said.

However, she did point out the generosity of her co-workers at Greene Correctional. "People at work were wonderful," she said. Employees at the unit gathered money for hurricane victims. Manning also said that everyone also very understanding of her situation with respect to her taking time off.

As she sat in her new home in west Wilson, she had nothing but praise for her benefactors. She pointed to furniture in her living room and said, "Everything you see here was given to me." Before she moved into her home, she even turned down offers of furniture because she had no place to store it.

To demonstrate her appreciation and show those who helped her how far their generosity had gone, Manning held an open-house party June 10. Greene Correctional Chaplain Joe Dunlap and 43 other friends came to celebrate with Manning. During the party, Dunlap blessed the house.

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