King family lost everything, yet manages to smile

Water shooting out of Rhonda King’s toilet was the first sign that something was amiss. A few moments later, the single mom of three noticed the carpets in her Osborn Avenue home were soaked.

Then water began pouring through the windows.

“I told my kids, we gotta get out of here,” Ms. King said.

She yelled to her daughter Amanda, 15, and son DeAndre, 14, to grab their belongings and flee the house. They gathered what they could — a few pairs of jeans, an extra pair of shoes — but as a sneaker floated past Ms. King’s knees, it became clear the family would soon be homeless.

What amounted to four feet of muddy water made it impossible to vacate the block by car during last week’s storm. Instead, police officers in a boat ferried the trio to higher ground.

The Kings were among a dozen or so families that were displaced by a flood that left a portion of Horton and Osborn avenues in Riverhead completely under water. Families like the Kings have since been staying with friends or relatives or in motels as they await clearance to return to their homes — or, in cases where a house may have been rendered inhabitable, look for somewhere new to live.

Despite losing most all of their belongings, including one car, the Kings count themselves as fortunate.

Their landlords put them up in a four-room apartment near Osborn Avenue and Pulaski Street until they could make more stable arrangements, they said. There, the Kings use lawn chairs as living room furniture and sleep on air mattresses donated by family members.

Last Thursday afternoon, Ms. King’s father, Ed King, and her son, DeAndre, bailed nearly a foot of water out of her Chrysler Town and Country minivan. Mr. King used a towel to soak up the last bit of water in the van’s crevices and then wrung it out over the sidewalk.

“He is one terrific dude,” Ms. King said of her dad as he worked.

“I had to come and rescue her,” Mr. King added proudly.

When asked if the Horton Avenue flood was Riverhead’s own Hurricane Katrina, Mr. King, of Southampton, just laughed.

“Nobody drowned, nobody had a heart attack,” he said. “We got some homeless people, that’s all.”

Ms. King’s oldest daughter, Dasche, who now lives in an apartment in Riverhead, said she was frustrated to see the home where her family had lived for six years suddenly destroyed.

“When they built that circle, it seemed like it made matters worse,” she said of the nearby roundabout, which was expected to alleviate such a flood from striking the low-lying area. “I’m enraged.”

Dasche’s Honda Civic, which was parked at her mother’s house during the storm, was totaled by the water damage. Her proud younger sister, Amanda, who stressed repeatedly that the family does not consider itself poor, was able to grab only a few things before fleeing her home last Tuesday.

“I was like, ohhhh, shiznit,” she said, recalling her reaction to the lake that had formed on her block.

As for brother DeAndre’s take on the storm that has thrown his young life into disarray, he said simply, “God was upset that day.”

There’s only one lost possession Ms. King will truly miss, she said, a photograph of her sister, Shayla, who died in 2005 at only 23. The photo, which was hanging on the family’s refrigerator, fell to the floor and was ruined when the water started rushing into the home, leaving her with only one other photograph of her sister.

Ms. King returned to work Monday after several days of trying to get her life in order. Although she said her employer was understanding about the situation, she said not working for an entire week provided an added layer of stress.

“It’s not going to pay my bills,” she said of her reduced earnings.

Despite their hardships, the King family was in good spirits last week as they smiled for an impromptu family portrait in front of their temporary home.

Ms. King said she does not yet have a plan for the future, but has faith that everything will turn out all right.

“I’ll get back to where I was,” she said. “[God] does things for a reason.”

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