Record-breaking rain catches South off-guard, death toll climbs as floods hit Grand Ole Opry

Submitted by Quest-News-Serv... on Wed, 05/05/2010 - 21:19.
100504_TN_flood_muddy.jpg

 100504_TN_flood_muddy.jpgMuddy Water Fills Nashville – at Least 29 Dead

Record-breaking rain catches South off-guard, death toll climbs as floods hit Grand Ole Opry


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May 4, 2010
AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Rescuers feared even more bodies would emerge as muddy flood waters ebb from torrential weekend rains that swamped Nashville, much of Tennessee and two neighboring states, leaving at least 29 dead.

Photo: Sections of the downtown area are flooded from the waters of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tenn. on Monday, May 3. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA)

The flash floods caused by record-breaking rain caught many here off-guard, forcing thousands to frantically flee their homes and hotels. The rapidly rising waters killed 18 people in Tennessee alone, including 10 in Nashville, and officials feared that the death toll could increase.

"Do we suspect to find more people? Probably so. We certainly hope that it's not a large number," said Metro Nashville Davidson County Fire Chief Kim Lawson.

Though the historic Ryman Auditorium — the former home of the Grand Ole Opry — and the recording studios of Music Row were not in immediate danger, parts of other top Nashville tourist spots including the Country Music Hall of Fame and The Grand Ole Opry House were flooded.

Authorities closed off streets in downtown Nashville with the Cumberland River forecast to crest as early as Monday night at about 12 feet (3.6 meters) above flood stage after weekend storms dumped more than 13 inches (33 centimeters) of rain in two days.

Though the rain stopped falling on Monday, the river continued to inch upward and authorities and volunteers in fishing boats, an amphibious tour bus and a canoe scooped up about 500 trapped vacationers at the Wyndham Resort along the river near Opryland.

Photo: James Evitts carries his wife Glenda from their home on Liberty Parkway. The local American Red Cross arranged lodging for the couple and their four children Sunday night. Evitts said his insurance said they would only pay for damage to their three vehicles - not their home. (Ann Wallace / The Leaf-Chronicle)

Rescuers had to steer through a maze of underwater hazards including submerged cars, some with their tops barely visible above floodwaters the color of milk chocolate.

Jim Moser, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Nashville, said a slow-moving weather system pumped up Gulf moisture into highly unstable air over Tennessee. The result was strong storms dumping heavy rains that caught most of the city and surrounding area by surprise.

The weekend storms also killed six people in Mississippi and four in Kentucky, including one man whose truck ran off the road and into a flooded creek. One person was also killed by a tornado in western Tennessee.

On the east side of the river at LP Field, where the Tennessee Titans play, water covered the field and surrounding parking lot.

"It's shocking to see it this way, but it was an incredible storm," Mayor Karl Dean said as he surveyed the downtown flooding. The Cumberland River was expected to crest Monday afternoon at 11 feet above flood stage, and officials worried they may find more bodies in the rising floodwaters.

Shelters quickly set up

Thousands of people took refuge in emergency shelters, including about 1,500 guests at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center who spent the night at a high school to escape the flooding. The resort's hotel, located northeast of downtown along the river, had "significant water" inside and would remain closed indefinitely, said hotel spokeswoman Kim Keelor.

Photo: Muddy water fills Nashville streets (Erik S. Lesser / EPA)

German tourists Gerdi and Kurt Bauerle, both 70, said resort staff suddenly started rushing people out of the area Sunday night.

"We had just finished eating and suddenly they said: 'Go! Go! Go!'" said Gerdi Bauerle, who was visiting from Munich. "And we said 'Wait, we haven't even paid.'"

Water flooded parking lots around the nearby Grand Ole Opry House and the Opry Mills shopping mall, but it wasn't immediately clear if water had made it inside the buildings.

Lucy Owens, 46, said she had followed directions to stay inside with her 21-year-old son at their home near Opryland when she heard on the TV that her neighborhood was being evacuated Sunday night. She and her son tried to escape in her truck, but she couldn't even make it to her mailbox because the water was so high that it started flooding the truck's cab.

She said she screamed for help and a police officer came and took her and son to a point where a boat could rescue them. By then, water was up to her ribcage.

"I got no notice. No one said nothing about evacuating. I did what they said and stayed put. I didn't get out. I didn't drive. Then it just all happened so fast," she said.

Photo: A submerged car sits in flood waters on Sunday, May 2, 2010 in Nashville, Tenn. Severe storms dumped heavy rain on Tennessee for the second straight day. (AP /Mark Humphrey)

"We had just finished eating and suddenly they said: 'Go! Go! Go!'" said Gerdi Bauerle, who was visiting from Munich. "And we said 'Wait, we haven't even paid.'"

Water flooded parking lots around the nearby Grand Ole Opry House and the Opry Mills shopping mall, but it wasn't immediately clear if water had made it inside the buildings.

Lucy Owens, 46, said she had followed directions to stay inside with her 21-year-old son at their home near Opryland when she heard on the TV that her neighborhood was being evacuated Sunday night. She and her son tried to escape in her truck, but she couldn't even make it to her mailbox because the water was so high that it started flooding the truck's cab.

She said she screamed for help and a police officer came and took her and son to a point where a boat could rescue them. By then, water was up to her ribcage.

"I got no notice. No one said nothing about evacuating. I did what they said and stayed put. I didn't get out. I didn't drive. Then it just all happened so fast," she said.

Hundreds of homes swallowed

Floodwaters swallowed up hundreds of homes including 45-year-old Lisa Blackmon's in the suburb of Bellevue on the west side of Nashville. Water was up to her knees inside her house when a neighbor rushed her out Sunday morning. "I got me, the dog, the car out and that's all I got," she said on Monday.

Blackmon said she feared she had nothing left in her home. She said she had no flood insurance and lost her job at a trucking company last December.

"I know God doesn't give us more than we can take," she said. "But I'm at my breaking point."

Photo: Spectators look at downtown Nashville from the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge over the Cumberland River on Monday, May 3. (Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)

The Cumberland flooded quickly after the weekend's storms dumped more than 13 inches of rain in Nashville over two days. That nearly doubled the previous record of 6.68 inches of rain that fell in the wake of Hurricane Fredrick in 1979.

‘I've never seen flooding like this’

The weekend deaths came on the heels of a tornado in Arkansas that killed a woman and injured about two dozen people Friday. A week ago, 10 people were killed by a tornado from a separate storm in western Mississippi.

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen got a bird's eye view of the flooding damage during a helicopter tour of the area on Monday. As he crossed the Tennessee River and neared the hard-hit area of Madison County, flood waters were so deep that the tops of trees made the land looked like islands.

"I've never seen flooding like this," Bredesen said.

The Cumberland River already reached record levels since an early 1960s flood control project was put in place. With so much water inundating its tributaries, it was difficult to gauge whether the river would stop at 50 feet deep, or 11 feet above flood stage.

Much of the damage from flooding was done in outlying areas of Nashville and across the middle and western parts of Tennessee. Rescues turned dramatic over the weekend with homeowners plucked off roofs and pregnant women airlifted off a waterlogged interstate.

Photo: The Grand Ole Opry House, the multi-leveled building on the lower right, is surrounded by flood water in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday. (Mark Humphrey / AP)

The rain ended Monday but there will likely be weeks of cleanup. Though there was no official estimate, it was clear thousands of homes had been damaged or destroyed by flooding and tornadoes. Emily Petro, with the Red Cross in Nashville, said the agency was sheltering about 2,000 people across Tennessee — about 1,200 of them in Nashville.

Most schools in middle Tennessee were closed Monday and many universities in the Nashville area postponed final exams.

The state's roads also were in bad shape. The three major interstates in the Nashville area were closed over the weekend and Interstate 40, which runs east to west through the state, reopened Monday. In Kentucky, than 300 roads were blocked by flood waters, officials said.

In Nashville, even the state's own emergency operations center wasn't immune. It took up to a foot of water below a false floor, forcing officials to relocate to an auxiliary command center.

"I've never seen it this high," said emergency official Donnie Smith, who's lived in Nashville 45 years. "I'm sure that it's rained this hard at one time, but never for this much of an extended period."

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/36891589/ns/weather/

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