A week after The Great Flood of 2010, Tennesseans are proving their grit. They were some of the darkest days in Tennessee history, when 13.57 inches of torrential rain fell in two days last weekend, leaving the city and great portions of the state in darkness due to flood deaths and lack of power.
Authorities were forced to evacuate the downtown area of Nashville where a weak levee gave way, flooding local homes and businesses when record-shattering rains swelled rivers and creeks throughout Middle and West Tennessee to levels not seen in decades, if ever. 21 are dead in Tennessee alone. One died after sitting in interstate traffic blocked by flood waters for over five hours, and 10 more died in Mississippi and Kentucky. Four are still missing.
One week after continuing coverage was reported by anchors in newsrooms with water up to the ankles and rising, 52 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have been declared disaster areas. The earliest damage estimate of homes and business in Nashville alone is $1.5 billion, a total that excludes the contents or public roads and bridges.
Poignant Nashville landmarks were devoured by flood waters; some still hold water in their bowels. The Opryland Hotel, mall, and entertainment complex; LP Field; the Grand Ole Opry; Music City Hall of Fame; Wild Horse Saloon; and Schermerhorn Symphony Center are simply a few of the iconic Nashville landmarks that stood in several feet of fetid flood water from the Harpeth and Cumberland Rivers, as many as 10 feet.
Many of these locations will remain closed for months, as they continue to hold water, and as always in flooding, backed up sewage and other wastes in the standing water threatens public health. Although the city continues round the clock efforts at electricity restoration to one flooded water plant which has been out of service since last weekend's flood, residents in Nashville and the surrounding areas are being asked to cut water usage by half to conserve the water available from the remaining plant.
The main railroad line between Nashville and Memphis will be out for several weeks, as missing bridges are replaced. Two-thirds of spring planting in Tennessee was destroyed by river and stream flow which was above level 'the 500-year flood,' level according to one surface water specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The Diocese of Nashville was affected as well, as homes, parishes and schools took on flooding. The Bishop’s secretary lost her elderly father and his wife in the floodwaters, and the athletic fields at Pope John Paul II High School, the largest Catholic high school in the area, remain under several feet of standing water.
Electricity in the school facilities remains limited, and access to the property is still restricted by floodwaters. Thousands have lost their homes, and are displaced and unemployed. “I feel like I’m homeless and in debt for something that may not exist,” one member of the diocese said of her home.
But light is returning to the darkened city, and it is revealing what Tennesseans are made of. Relief efforts in the diocese have begun through its many Catholic charities and ministries (please donate here!). Nashville Electric Service restored power to 11 buildings downtown early Friday morning, including the iconic AT&T building, nicknamed “the Batman building.”
Although the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and Wild Horse Saloon are among the many businesses that remain without electricity downtown simply because the amount of flood water still around the electrical systems of those buildings makes power too dangerous to restore, the state is awash in charity and goodwill that has stunned everyone who has witnessed or taken part in it.
In Bellvue, a neighborhood especially hard hit, there was not enough space to park the hundreds of cars of the volunteers who turned out to help clean up. In neighborhoods all over the state this weekend, strangers climbed on their bellies into the rank crawl spaces of homes of people they did not know and cleared mountains of ruined property, braving tetanus, dead animals, and other dregs to remove soaked insulation and other debris.
Procter & Gamble’s Tide Loads of Hope will be up and running in Nashville on May 12th , and as the flood waters recede, the state is newly awash in a welcome flood of generosity. Although it is “Music City,” a shocking 1.7 million dollars was raised through the Flood Relief Music Telethon, to which Nashvillian Taylor Swift donated $500,000.
Certainly, we here in Nashville are thankful for our neighbors all over the nation who have given so bountifully to support us in our crisis, but it will take billions to rebuild the state and the city of Nashville. Where will the money come from when no one knows we need the help?
Many of us are scratching our heads at the lack of national attention this disaster has received. Is the media unable to multitask the oil spill, the European financial crisis, and the Tennessee flooding disaster? News reports last night conveyed that he has sent emissaries to the state, but as yet, our President has had nothing to say to us either.
Is he too busy laughing at the immigration crisis in Arizona to even bother with us here? Some have wondered aloud if he would have a word of comfort if we were a third world country, or had voted differently in the national election that swept him into the presidency.
In his defense, it has been stated that government involvement and relief takes time, that the bureaucratic wheel is slow to turn, and that we must be patient with the relief. It worked that way, they say, for New Orleans in 2005, it worked that way for Greensburg, Kansas in 2007, it worked that way for Branson, Missouri in 2008, it will work that way for Nashville in 2010.
I submit however, that it did not work the same way for each of those places. Kansas and Missouri looked a lot through their crises like Tennessee has this past week, as our neighbors feed, clothe, and house one another. No one in Nashville was seen holding signs saying "Obama hates me because I'm white!" or screaming into live news cameras that President Obama wanted them all to die and therefore must have blown up the levees.
There were no reports of looting, or rioting, or even bad behavior. No curfews have been imposed.
No one here in Tennessee was seen clinging to their guns as their homes were swept away, although many of us would proudly say we continue to cling to God as we struggle to recover. We certainly did not wait on the government to come boat and bus us out.
I will go so far as to suggest that that is exactly why our president has had nothing at all to say to us, although within 2 days he declared Boston a disaster over a water main break that made it necessary for 2 million people to boil water before drinking it (Sorry Dave; great for you guys, not so great for us).
The people here have no water. They have no homes in which to boil water, no stoves on which to boil it, and no power with which to heat it. Our governor is not as chummy with the president as Massachusetts’, where within 2 days President Obama's declaration authorized the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts with the state of Massachusetts to “help ease any hardships.”
So the question on many minds here in Tennessee, seven days after what has been called the costliest non-hurricane natural disaster in American history, is exactly how red does a state have to be before it no longer warrants that kind of assistance?