Cabdriver Gloria Kelly was headed for her dispatcher's job at Rocky Mount City Cab. James Pettaway, a maintenance man for the Edgecombe County public schools, was headed home. Crystal Flowers was spending the night at her grandmother's home.
Then Hurricane Floyd passed over eastern North Carolina.
And life was forever changed.
Dams busted, levies gave way, the Tar River woke up and was barreling through Tarboro, Princeville and other communities in eastern North Carolina. Kelly's home was destroyed, the coffin containing Pettaway's son was unearthed, and Flowers would be rescued from the top of a house by a boat that capsized while she was in it. Six people drowned.
The agony was felt as far away as Washington, where immigrants from North Carolina worried about their folks back home.
From Eva Norfleet, of Hyattsville, to the Rev. Joseph Weaver, pastor of First Baptist Church of Capitol Heights, Prince George's County is filled with North Carolina natives who have been ferrying food, clothing and bottled water home over the last two weeks.
There is an endless caravan of love headed to North Carolina these days, and, according to residents affected by the disaster, the outpouring has helped them cope with a tragic situation.
"I am still counting my blessings," said Kelly, 36, a single mother of four whose home was destroyed by felled trees and floodwaters. "We have a lot to be thankful for. We could have been in the house at the time."
The torrential rain--20 inches of it in one day in some places--sent the Tar, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers and scores of creeks roaring across eastern North Carolina. At one point, as much as 30 feet of water covered Princeville, baptizing cars, homes and the wooden town hall building that was almost submerged.
James Pearce, director of the Edgecombe County Cooperative Extension Service, returned to a spot near the Tar River Bridge, where the dike broke, sending millions of gallons of water into Princeville. "At one point, rescue workers in boats could reach out and touch the top of the traffic lights," he said.
Flowers said that she is lucky just to be alive. Floodwaters forced her family into the attic of her grandmother's home for an entire day. Flowers and her family had to be rescued by a boat. Then things turned tragic on the morning of Sept. 16.
"About 5 o'clock that Thursday morning, water started coming in the house, and they started calling us to get out," Flowers said. "The man came for us with his family, and there was seven of us. We all got on the boat, but when we tried to leave, I felt the boat rocking and it tipped over."
North Carolina officials confirmed that three children and three adults drowned when the small rescue boat they were riding capsized in the Dodge City portion of Pinetops, a small community 20 miles south of Princeville.
The children who died were Flowers's cousins. She hopes that her family can move to higher ground, but her immediate plans are to talk with a social worker to get through her grief. "I plan to get a little bit of counseling and try to live my life," she said.
Pettaway still is struggling over the disaster. The storm opened the vault containing his 23-year-old son's coffin, which floated through the streets of Princeville from Dancey Cemetery. "I didn't want to come back out here," Pettaway said as he looked into his child's vault, where a white vinyl sheet covered brown river water. Pettaway's son, Kenneth T. Hyman, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound May 4, 1991.
Coast Guard boats trawled through 20-foot-deep floodwaters in Princeville to recover nearly 100 coffins that had surfaced because the cemetery was so saturated. A team of funeral home directors, forensic anthropologists and federal officials have been working with families to identify the dead.
"I thought it was all over, but then his mother came to my house and told me that the funeral home has his body," said Pettaway, who is planning a second funeral for his child. "I am going to get through this, we are going to make it," he said.
Going Back Home
"Little David was a shepherd boy, killed Goliath, shouted for Joy. Little David play on your harp, Halle Lu! Halle Lu!"
Norfleet, 76, a native of Princeville, and her childhood friend Grace Swinson, 75, of Tarboro, sang their old Sunday school song as they stacked boxes of food and household goods in a Chillum warehouse.
Norfleet has vivid childhood memories of walking across the Tar River Bridge from Princeville to visit Swinson in Tarboro. In the 1930s, the two little girls lived in a world filled with baby dolls, coconut cake and harsh spankings for "sassing" adults.
The two women, who migrated to the Washington area decades ago for careers in the federal government, have gone back home over the last week to take items to family and friends back in the Tarboro-Princeville area.
"It really hit home when they said coffins were floating down the river," said Swinson, whose parents are buried in Dancey Cemetery in Princeville. "My mother is buried there."
The scene in Princeville, which was incorporated by freed slaves in 1860, is apocalyptic. Huge trees have been pulled up by the roots. A used-car lot is filled with mud-soaked cars. There are clothes on the line in one yard, a lawn mower in another and dead animals everywhere. But no people.
Norfleet wanted to see Princeville for herself. When asked why, she said: "Everybody has a home. I am just trying to help the people in my home town. They all need something."
Weaver, the pastor, couldn't watch another news report about the devastation from the flood in North Carolina. So like many other area residents, he organized a relief effort and headed for his home state.
"This is my second trip down here," Weaver said as he unloaded two sofas outside Union Baptist Church in Tarboro. "This is my home; these people are me. When I saw what happened, I had to do something."
Vice President's View
Vice President Gore, during a visit to The Washington Post, paused to talk about the flood, saying the government has put together the "largest buyout in U.S. history."
"It is imperative that we rebuild," said the Rev. William Clayton, pastor of Eastern Star Baptist Church in Tarboro. Clayton, who is president of the East Tarboro/Princeville Community Development Corp., added: "Princeville was founded by freed slaves. It is our heritage. It is our legacy. And if we rebuild anywhere else, it will not be home."
CAPTION: James Pettaway's son's coffin was unearthed from Princeville's Dancey Cemetery by floodwaters.
CAPTION: The Princeville town hall building was nearly submerged by floodwaters. At one point, as much as 30 feet of water covered Princeville, flooding cars and many structures.
CAPTION: In Hyattsville, Eva Norfleet, left, and Grace Swinson collect items to ship to their North Carolina home towns.