In every natural disaster, stories of heroes emerge from the floodwaters. That’s exactly what has happened countless times during the aftermath of North Carolina’s Hurricane Florence. A man named Robert Simmons Jr. made headlines for fleeing his home with his trusty kitten literally perched on his shoulder. The photograph of the unusual pair made worldwide headlines and the tiny Survivor is a viral sensation.

12. Survivor the Kitten

Image: News and Observer

Nothing gets the internet’s attention like a good kitten photo. For a kitten named Survivor, that was doubly true, since the little kitty was forced to leave home with his human father, Robert Simmons Jr. Hurricane Florence had weakened by the time it made landfall, but it still brought with it terrible floodwaters, prompting people like Simmons to flee their homes in boats, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

11. Enter the Reporter

Image: Rueters

North Carolina’s News & Observer reporter Andrew Carter was out collecting stories about the storm when he spotted Simmons in a rowboat with a very wet kitten sitting on his shoulder. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Carter knew he had to document this moment and get the story. He took some photographs and then interviewed Simmons for the full story.

10. Robert Simmons

Image: Travis Long

Explaining the story behind the photo, Carter wrote, “Meet Robert Simmons. Was stuck in his house since last night, when floodwaters began to rise in New Bern. A boat came and rescued him just now. He was sad to leave his father but left with his kitten hugging his neck.” Like many people, Survivor and Simmons had to be rescued by crews who were working around the clock to evacuate people.

9. Stubborn Father

Image: People

The senior Simmons was one of many people who refused to leave their homes because of the hurricane. Carter explained that while Simmons Jr. “wanted his father to leave on the boat…his father wanted to stay behind.” That was a perilous choice because rain was still falling and the floodwaters continued to rise.

8. Veteran of Many Storms

Image: Travis Long

Like many lifelong residents of New Bern, Simmons had seen his share of killer storms. “We done been through Bertha, Fran, Irene, Matthew,” Simmons, told the Raleigh News & Observer. But Simmons estimated that just as the meteorologists predicted, Florence was “the worst it’s ever been.” When the Neuse River overflowed, New Bern’s streets immediately became canals. The tops of street signs were barely visible.

7. Waist Deep Water

Image: WCTI


“There was probably about a half-mile of waist-deep water between their place and the street that led out of the neighborhood,” Carter continued. Even the inside of the local New Bern TV station had flooded and the repoters had to evacuate. Simmons Jr. had to make a difficult choice: stay with his father or leave and carry his scared kitten to safety. Simmons Jr. chose to save his kitten and leave his stubborn father at home.

6. Viral Sensation

Image: Travis Long

Carter’s photo was instantly viral, being liked and re-blogged almost a million times. The picture touched a nerve because of the attention focused on Hurricane Florence as well as the continued dominance of cats on the Internet. Plus, Survivor is very, very cute, and who can resist a small kitten?

5. Animal Lover

Image: Travis Long

Carter interviewed Simons for The News & Observer. Simmons, a resident of New Bern called himself “an animal lover.” He explained that the kitten’s mother is a feral cat – “she’s a wild cat.” Feral cats are best left to fend for themselves because they like it that way. Although she opted to remain behind, Simmons took her kitten to safety.

4. Moxie

Image: Travis Long

While Simmons spoke to the reporter, Survivor looked for comfort. It huddled inside his jacket before resuming its place on Simmons shoulder. This two-pound animal showed plenty of courage and moxie, just like the many people and animals who lost their homes and cars in the storm.

3. The Way to a Cat’s Heart

Image: Travis Long

When Carter asked why the kitten seemed so comfortable, Simmons laughed while giving an answer familiar to cat lovers everywhere: “I feed him.” New Bern is a city near the coast that is also bordered by two rivers. The city’s proximity to so much water created very dangerous situations for people and animals living in the low country.

2. Saving Pets

Image: Travis Long

The rise in hurricane activity has focused more people on the dangers of leaving pets behind during storms. That’s why many people have been volunteering to rescue and host pets from floodwaters in the parts of eastern North Carolina destroyed by Florence. Volunteers from around the country have taken in pets that were displaced by the disaster

1. Safe at Last

Image: YouTube

As for Survivor, he was looking forward to dry land and a good meal. Thankfully Simmons Sr. and the feral cats managed to survive the storm as well. Who knows what’s next for the man and his kitten – a book deal? The sky is the limit for a popular kitty.