The Situation in Nashville

by Shaker rowmyboat, a New York/New England transplant weathering storms in Nashville, Tennessee.

On the far right of this photo is the football stadium, and then in front of that is the river. In the middle there is a green-roofed building that is mostly obscured by trees, and that's where the river usually stops, but here the river has overflowed the bank and is well into the first couple blocks of the city. On the far left, people on a pedestrian bridge overlook the scene.

You may have heard that we've got a bit of a situation here in Nashville, Tennessee, and surrounding areas. Or maybe you haven't heard; my mother, who has been an assiduous follower of Nashville weather and news since I've lived here, hadn't heard that there had been about a dozen weather-related fatalities. Many of my far-flung friends in New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere hadn't heard anything about it at all, aside from what I've been putting up on Facebook. The MSM is only slowly catching up, with the New York Times and the major TV news channels only starting to do some minor reporting of the whole thing on Monday.

First, let me say that I'm fine. My apartment had a small leak in the living room ceiling and the hot water heater has turned off for seemingly unrelated reasons. My neighborhood is on the side of a hill, so the water all went right past us. We only lost power for a couple minutes here and there – once Saturday night, and again Sunday afternoon and Monday evening.

Just fifteen blocks west of me a creek ran over. Some houses were flooded there, and on Monday afternoon the bodies of an elderly couple who went missing on Sunday were retrieved. I drove past the creek late Monday morning and there was a truck in it; the waters were so strong even in that little stream that it tore up parking lots and moved cars and trucks.

The long and short of it is that we're having what the Army Corps of Engineers has called a "once in a thousand years event." Between last Friday night and Sunday night over a foot (30.5) of rain fell in Nashville, with up to fifteen inches (38 cm) in some areas. It broke the one day and two day rainfall records for the area, and though it is only May 3 it has already been the rainiest May on record. It is also about a quarter of the average yearly rainfall for this area.

As a result, every river, pond, lake, stream, and creek in the area burst its banks, and there has been wide-spread flooding. The interstate highways around Nashville started flooding late Saturday afternoon and yesterday the TN Department of Transportation's website indicated that every highway in the Nashville metro area was flooded. The most dramatic instance of this can be seen in video and photographs of route 24 south of the city, where the waters were up over the jersey barriers, cars and trucks were submerged, and a portable classroom trailer floated down the highway and smashed to pieces against a semi truck. A great many local roads were also flooded, making it virtually impossible to leave some areas by car or foot.

Most of the damage was done Sunday while the rain was still falling and smaller waterways were over their banks. The Bellvue area of Nashville was particularly hard-hit, as were out-lying towns of Franklin and Lebanon. Lebanon's town square is underwater and the commuter rail is torn up. My landlords apparently "swam" out of their house in Bellvue yesterday. There have been over a thousand water rescues in the last two days, including people from the roofs of homes and businesses, and police officers whose squad cars had floated away.

Some areas have been evacuated, including a complete evacuation of the area of downtown by the river. Even as I write this on Monday night, more areas are evacuating. A few towns, such as Clarkesville, have instituted overnight curfews. All the school are closed, and finals were postponed and some classes canceled at the colleges in the area. The MTA buses are "suspended indefinitely." Many home and business owners do not have flood insurance because they never thought they'd need it.

The biggest of these rivers is the Cumberland, which flows past the center of the city. The football stadium that the Tennessee Titans play in sits right on the east bank, and the financial and government hub sits on the west bank, with First Avenue close up against the river. Right now (8:30 pm Monday) the river is 51.63 feet (15.74 m) deep. It seems to have crested around 6 PM at 51.86 feet (15.81 m).

Even after the rain stopped, the water in the river has kept rising, as the tributaries and everything else empties into it. The Cumberland's flood stage is 40 feet (12.19 m), and that was reached some time around 10 AM Sunday morning. Before the rain started, the river had been sitting around 19 or 20 feet (about 6 m).

51.86 feet is the tenth highest the Cumberland River has ever been measured at. The highest in the last 200 years or so (since they've been measuring it) was on January 1, 1929 at 56.2 feet (17.13 m). In the 1950s and '60s flood control infrastructure was built to help control the level of the Cumberland. Without that, we'd be well above the 1929 levels by now and the situation would be absolutely catastrophic.

Yesterday the power went down in some areas, so that thousands of residents are without electricity and some radio stations (including the NPR affiliate) aren't broadcasting. Power will be slow coming back because many of the Nashville Electric Service trucks were flooded. There have been water main breaks here and there, so that some communities have been told to boil their water (joining the club with Boston, MA). A state of emergency was declared yesterday and the National Guard came in to help, and today FEMA has gotten in on the action. Fifty-two of the ninety-five counties in the state have been declared disaster areas.

Here, in by the middle of the city, the water is still good, but we're running low. One of the two water treatment plants shut down yesterday after it flooded, so we are at half capacity, and we were ordered to start conserving water Monday morning – drinking and food prep only. On Monday afternoon, the other plant was in danger of flooding, so volunteers were called in to sandbag it and at 9 PM they are still working.

Despite efforts at conservation, as of 5:30 Monday evening Metro Water Director Scott Potter has said we aren't doing very well, and that we are very much in danger of the city's water supply being contaminated. As I understand it, once the pressure within the pipes drops below a certain level (due to us having used it up and one plant being off), groundwater my seep in and dirty it up. There would be hundreds of thousands of people without water or without clean water. Hopefully this will turn around soon, as I think it's the thing most threatening to general well-being at the moment.

As of Monday, most areas were starting to clean up as water subsided. The exception is the banks of the Cumberland. With waters continuing to rise there, more and more things have been submerged. On the east bank, LP Field, where the Titans play, is flooded. On the west bank, things are quite dire. First and Second Avenues are underwater, nearly up to the top of the first story in places. Many famous or historic buildings are flooded, including the Grand Ole Opry, the Opryland Hotel, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center where the Nashville Symphony Orchestra plays (their $2.5 million organ is ruined), the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the Bridgestone Arena where the Predators hockey team plays. Of the landmarks I can think of, the Ryman Auditorium is still dry.

Things aren't all bad, though. We've gotten a lot of lolz out of it, most notable the weather penis (which has it's own Facebook page!) that Liss posted about. There's a song. There was also the GIANT CARP that someone caught ON A ROAD. And Naomi Judd's buffalo, which got loose in Leipers Fork. Or the Tennessee State University president paddling a canoe out to rescue a faculty member from atop a haystack. You heard me right – college president, canoe, faculty member, haystack.

And then there's the Twitter hashtag: #othersituation2010. Ok, so, back in February, there was a snow storm on the way, and all the news and weather people kept talking about the situation. They said it so many times that it became a proper noun, The Situation. Washington, D.C. had Snowpocalypse, Nashville had The Situation. When this great big storm was being forecast last week, it harkened back to February's storm and quickly became The Other Situation. Some folks are a little disgruntled, because future researchers looking for information about the May Day Flood, or whatever it ends up being called on places that aren't Twitter, won't be able to find it because OtherSituation2010 is not a very good descriptive title. As a librarian/archivist, I definitely see their point, but I also think they need to chill out.

So, if you're looking for information about what's going on down here, try Twitter. Other tags include #NashvilleFlood, #flood2010, #splashville, #tennflood, #theothersituation2010, and #nashlantis. Twitter has really been key during the last few days. Other information sources include the Nashvillest blog and the various newspaper and TV news stations, such as The Tennessean and WSMV/Channel 4. You can also keep tabs on the height of the Cumberland River.

I was out Monday bringing supplies to the shelter set up at the Gordon Jewish Community Center and to a group at Trevecca Nazarine University that is bringing relief to the low-lying Chestnut Hill neighborhood around their campus. Most of the official shelters are good on supplies, but the kids at Trevecca are still taking stuff for their neighbors – in particular, "socks, underwear, dry food, and water" according to a Monday night tweet. For those both in and out of Nashville, here is a roundup of ways to help.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus