Kattie Lynn McNitt was lying on her bedroom mattress when the family pets started to float around the house.
Locked in their cages, McNitt’s chihuahua, rabbit, chickens and African grey parrot bobbed up and down in the nearly 2-foot-high water that flowed through her home.
“It was like a river,” McNitt said. “I felt like I was with Robin Williams and we were playing Jumanji.”
Her three children — 10-year-old Gavin, 8-year-old Ava and 7-year-old Kaine — were still asleep in their beds when the flood waters brought on by Hurricane Irma started to seep under the front door of McNitt’s home, located at 1620 S. Flagler Ave. in Flagler Beach, at around 3 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 11.
McNitt could hear electricity crackle and pop as the rising water burned out the TVs and other electronics around the home.
“I told my boyfriend that we had to stop the water from coming into the kids’ rooms,” she said. “He just looked at me and said, ‘There’s no stopping it.’”
I never, ever thought it would happen to me
McNitt salvaged what she could: a couple of couches and a few pictures.
Everything else — clothes, old photo albums, yearbooks and toys — drowned in the dirty brown water.
McNitt’s home survived Hurricane Matthew nearly a year ago, which is why she chose not to evacuate.
The water is almost gone now, quietly slithering its way back into the ocean and canal behind their house — not at all similar to the way it came in.
But you can still smell it.
Underneath piles of warped wood, soggy mattresses and water-logged furniture, remnants of backed-up sewage remain.
McNitt, whose landlord has no flood or home insurance, sits alone in the front of the home. She sent the kids off to play at a friend’s house. The amount of stress she feels is overwhelming, but she can’t cry much anymore — the tears have been almost completely used up.
“I don’t know if I should cry, if I should put on my big girl boots and just keep going or just throw my hands up,” McNitt said. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Her children start school on Monday. In the meantime, McNitt, a certified nursing assistant, is out of work. She’s also studying at Daytona State College with her sights set on becoming a registered nurse. McNitt said she might have to withdraw from the current semester, though. The distractions that surround her family are too great.
“I know people go through stuff, house fires and floods and things like this all the time,” she said. “My whole life I’ve seen it on TV, but I never, ever thought it would happen to me.”
I just have to keep pushing forward. There's no other option.
Flagler Beach. For McNitt, this is where life began.
Over the span of 34 years, she’s felt the tug of a fish on the end of a line in Flagler’s waters, she’s felt the rushing waves underneath her surfboard off the beach, and she's felt the sand crumple beneath her toes.
And in her home that rests by a small island of mangroves on Flagler Avenue, some of her best memories as a parent were made.
It was where she raised her three children for the past six years. It was where her children formed some of their closest friendships. It was where they played together as a family, whether that be paddle boarding, skating or maintaining their mini zoo in the backyard.
Although she may have to leave, she doesn’t want to. It’s a difficult thought to process, McNitt said. The help she has received from other Flagler Beach residents makes it even more difficult.
McNitt said residents have brought food and cases of water. One neighbor, with a basket of cookies in hand, walked down the street to deliver a chocolatey treat to McNitt’s children.
“I love living here and being here,” McNitt said. “At the end of the day, everyone in Flagler, regardless if you’re having issues with one another, everyone always finds their way back to each other, especially if someone needs help. … Someone will give you the shirt off their back before they help themselves. It’s just how everyone is here.”
McNitt is a strong person in her own right.
And although the odds seem insurmountable, she believes she can bounce back — she has to.
“I’ve been through a lot in life,” McNitt said. “I just have to keep pushing forward. There’s no other option.”
For those interested in donating, visit McNitt's GoFundMe page.