FLATGAP — It took only a few minutes for nearly everything James Martin owned to swirl away in a muddy torrent.
Martin, 41, was alone at his mobile home Monday when he noticed Big Mudlick Creek was rising. He took a photo on his phone at 4:29 p.m. as rain pushed the creek out of its banks about 40 yards away.
By 4:58, the creek had washed away his GMC extended-cab pickup truck and outbuilding as he watched from higher ground and cursed in futile anger.
By 5:05, the water was at his trailer. Within 11 minutes, the trailer was gone, pushed off its foundation and into three utility poles, where it broke apart.
Part of the trailer ended up trapped against the poles, and the rest floated down the creek.
"Buddy, to put it in words — unreal," Martin, who was laid off from a surface coal mine, said Tuesday. "It's just unreal what I've seen."
Martin and scores of other people whose homes were destroyed by Monday's flood along Ky. 172 between Staffordsville and Flatgap returned Tuesday for the wearying work of trying to salvage pieces of their lives from the mud and wreckage.
The creek had gone down by Tuesday afternoon, leaving a band of damage that stretched for miles.
Trees remained bent from the weight of the flood, and the creek was strewn with cars, pieces of shattered homes and other debris. Only foundation blocks remained at several spots where mobile homes had been washed away.
The flood had eaten into the bank supporting Ky. 172 at one point, causing the road to collapse.
Here and there, the hum of a portable generator filled the muggy air, supplying power as people tried to clean water and mud from their homes. Heavy equipment growled as workers began clearing debris and repairing damaged power lines.
Many people told of close calls.
Doris Hardin, a neighbor of Martin's at the Pennington Mobile Home Park, had come home from work not long before the flood and prepared something to eat.
It was raining hard. She could see the creek was up, but she didn't expect disaster.
Then she heard screaming outside, and the maintenance man from the mobile home park rushed to her door and told her to get out.
When Hardin went out, it was already too late to drive her car out. She ran for higher ground through rushing, knee-deep water that nearly knocked her down.
"It scared me to death," she said. "I just ran. That's all I knew to do."
Hardin's home washed away. Near where the trailer had been, Hardin found the body of Monta, one of her cats. She was hoping her other cat, Dirk, survived. The cats are named after players on the Dallas Mavericks NBA team.
"I'm not giving up on the other one," she said.
Katheryn Elliott said she and several other people who lived together in a mobile home near Martin evacuated as they saw the water coming up.
The trailer washed away within minutes.
"Terrifying to realize that if we didn't get out ...," said Elliott's fiancée, Anthony Deleon, his voice trailing off.
Elliott was having trouble holding to the idea of the tattoo on her chest: "Even darkness must pass."
"We worked hard for everything and now it's gone," she said. "I've been crying all day."
Robbie Taylor and Markita Trent, who lived nearby, lost their home as well.
"Watched everything we have float down the river," Taylor said.
They had salvaged some electronics, but weren't sure they would work.
Martin had salvaged some clothes, including a muddy leather coat he hoped to clean, and a boxed model of the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt's car, a gift he'd given his son years ago.
He cried when he recounted finding some of his 3-year-old son's toys in the mud.
Martin said he was angry watching the destruction of his trailer, where he'd done extensive remodeling. His mother, sister and niece also lost their homes.
By Tuesday afternoon, however, he'd come to a different perspective, grateful he and his family were alive when others weren't.
"There's people that's lost more than me," Martin said.