Reflections on the Nashville Flood

This blog started out in a much different direction last Saturday morning. I woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Here’s what I said then: “There’s something comforting about that on a Saturday morning when I don’t have to go out. I snuggled under the covers and slept a little while longer. Finally got up around 7:00 to start the coffee and watch the rain outside my kitchen window.”

Little did I know that over Saturday and Sunday, Nashville would receive up to 15 inches of rain and experience unprecedented flooding. My first inkling that something unusual was going on was when I was out running errands on Saturday afternoon (I still needed to go to Costco and Kroger), and my husband, John, called to say I needed to come home right then. He had gone to Wal-Mart, about 1 1/2 miles from our house, and while he was in the store the water outside rose 18 inches. He had to wade back to the minivan, and water was up to the doors. He started to go home the usual way, but then he noticed flooding at the corner of Nolensville Road and Edmondson Pike. Cars were beginning to float in the water from a creek that runs under Edmondson Pike at that intersection. Water was over Nolensville Rd., a main branch. John had to turn around and go home another way.

For once I, strongwilled woman that I am, listened to him, dropped what I was doing, and headed home. I figured the groceries could wait until Sunday. We both made it home safely. We live on a hill, so though our sidewalk was inundated with water, we didn’t notice much except a lot of soggy ground.

On Sunday we headed to church. First we had to rethink our route, because there was water over the road across from the bottom of our street. We zigzagged down Edmondson Pike in the opposite direction of the way we usually go. As we drove along, I was amazed to see the ballfield near our house completely under water. Water was over fields and had closed the roads into Ellington Agricultural Center. The playground at the back of the Edmondson branch library was covered, and it looked like the lower parking lot was too. Okay, it looked pretty bad, but we kept going. We drove through a residential neighborhood and noticed several trees uprooted and fallen across the road. No problem; we turned around and took an alternate street. Finally we made it to I65 and headed toward downtown. Our church is in Hillsboro Village, about 5 minutes from downtown.

We got to church and I noticed that very few cars were there. Our church’s usual policy is to have 10:30 worship services no matter what, so we thought this a bit unusual. We saw a manhole cover lying beside the manhole in the street that runs behind our church. We looked around and noticed a few familiar cars and were amazed to find a space in the small parking lot adjacent to our church. About that time, I ran into a fellow choir member, and he said, “You know that worship services have been canceled, don’t you?” I said, “No, this is the first I’ve heard.” Anyway, turns out that our gym and our old fellowship hall under our sanctuary had flooded.

So then John and I decided to drive around and investigate a little. We started toward my place of employment, heading down 21st Ave. South, but the street was closed at the corner of 21st and Wedgewood. The bank where I usually do business was flooded. Water was at least 4 or 5 feet high.

We headed in another direction and drove down by The Upper Room; I wanted to see if it was still intact. It was. At that point we decided to head back home. But first we went down Woodmont Blvd. toward some friends’ house. We were worried about them because we knew they live in a flood plain. We got nearly as far as the end of their street. Water was up over Woodmont Blvd., and when I looked down their street, my stomach turned. It was a river. Someone got in a canoe and went toward one young couple who were stuck in their house. The man had to turn around because the water was too swift. At this point I was nearly frantic. I wanted to know whether Gerald and Becky had gotten out of their house. (I called them later that afternoon, and to my surprise, Gerald picked up the phone. He said they were fine. Water had gotten up to their house and was in the basement, but it hadn’t gotten on their first floor.)

I got on Facebook and started reading stories about other parts of town. People in Bellevue (western part of Nashville) seemed to be the worst off. We watched the news and saw boat rescues of people in the River Plantation area. We heard via e-mail about some members of our Sunday school class being evacuated from their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

There was flooding in the Cottonwood and Fieldstone Farm subdivisions in Franklin. I heard bits and pieces about other areas. Then came the biggie: the news reported that downtown was hit hard, and the Cumberland River was expected to crest at 50 feet. On Monday it crested at around 53 feet. The Cumberland has never been that high, at least since flood records have been kept.

Amazingly, my workplace was open on Monday; we opened 2 hours late. Our mayor had said Sunday night not to get out if you didn’t have to. He all but said, “Really, if you don’t have to go to work tomorrow, don’t.” Many downtown businesses were closed on Monday. Ours, being on the fringe of downtown near the Vanderbilt campus, was not as affected as downtown businesses.

So into work I trudged Monday, somewhat mad and thinking that I’d much rather be helping people clean out their homes from all the flood damage. It was kind of surreal; the sun was shining brightly, and the water had receded in most of the places I drove. Other than some mud on the streets and seeing people’s furniture, carpet, and other belongings  sitting out in their front yard along the formerly flooded Blackman Road, everything appeared to be fairly normal.

I heard sometime Monday that the mayor had asked people to start conserving water because one of our treatment plants was under water. I heard bits and pieces about what businesses downtown had been hammered by the flood. John and I drove around I65, which loops around the city, when he picked me up from work that afternoon. We were stunned by how much water we saw downtown.

Then came all the pictures on Facebook and all the news reports, most of them local. Unfortunately the flood came at the same time as the big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and a terrorist bombing attempt in New York City. Our news was small potatoes in the eyes of the national news media.

To make a long story a little shorter, it has been an emotionally exhausting week. My heart broke as I heard about people drowning and others losing their homes and pets. I have also been proud as I heard stories about how Nashvillians just showed up to help complete strangers and how neighborhoods bonded together to help one another. My son plans to volunteer with a friend today to help with flood cleanup.

One of the things I love about Nashville is its small-town feel even though it’s a fairly large city (really big compared to where I grew up, Kingsport, which had about 40,000 residents when I lived there). People smile at you when they pass you on the street; we strike up conversations with strangers while standing in line at the grocery store or wherever. It’s a little disconcerting at first to people from more reserved backgrounds, but it is one of the many things that made me feel at home when I moved here nearly 30 years ago.

It will be a long haul until we recover from this natural disaster. But I’ve seen Nashvillians pull together before, most memorably in the aftermath of the tornadoes in 1996. We are strong. We will make it through this…TOGETHER.

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