NASHVILLE, Tennessee, May 4, 2010 (ENS) – Record-breaking flash floods across Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky have claimed the lives of at least 29 people since Friday.
In Tennessee, 19 people have died in the severe storms, tornadoes and torrential rains that caused rapidly rising waters and flash flooding across the state.
Numerous nursing homes, apartment complexes and residences were evacuated as flood waters moved in on them. Water rescues and helicopter extractions were performed as waters rushed over hundreds of roads through cities, towns and neighborhoods.
Many residents have lost all of their possessions as homes were destroyed or sustained major damages.
As the Cumberland River rose, Nashville lost one of two plants that make drinking water for city residents and the second one was threatened. Mayor Karl Dean and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen requested that the Army Corps of Engineers slow the release of waters from area dams into the river. The mayor urged Nashville residents to halve their water consumption.
Today, the Army Corps said that its decision to release water from Old Hickory Dam this weekend prevented an additional four feet of flood waters from reaching downtown Nashville.
Water behind the dam in Old Hickory Lake reached a record elevation of 451.4 on Sunday afternoon, just seven inches short of the Corps losing control of the project due to the lake overtopping the dam.
“If we had allowed the lake go to 452 and overtop Old Hickory Dam, the loss of that dam would have added another four feet to the flood levels in downtown Nashville,” explained Lt. Col. Anthony Mitchell, commander of the Nashville District.
Flooded symphony hall and Country Music Hall of Fame (Photo by Wayne Hsieh)
“The perception is that flooding along the Cumberland River was made worse by releases from Corps dams,” said Mitchell. “The truth is that Corps dams kept the flooding throughout the region from being much worse.”
Still, floodwaters hit historic Nashville hard, knocking out power and entering the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. But it could have been worse. Today the management of the Country Music Hall of Fame said the museum sustained minor damage, but the exhibits and collections, located on the second, third and fourth floors of the building, are safe and dry.
At the height of the downtown flooding on Monday the museum had five and a half feet of water in the mechanical room, which is below ground level. Water also damaged the Ford Theater, which is at street level. Now the waters are receding but the museum is closed due to lack of power.
Flooding of the Cumberland River caused the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center to close to overnight guests. On Sunday night, guests were evacuated to a nearby shelter. The Grand Ole Opry at the site moved to the War Memorial Auditorium. Weekend performances will move to the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville.
The Tennessee Titans today checked out Nashville’s LP Field where flood waters covered the football field, and the damage appears to be minor.
Today, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation finalized a mandatory water conservation order for Metro Nashville, Davidson County, and Williamson County, including the cities of Franklin and Brentwood.
Environment and Conservation Commissioner Jim Fyke said, “Metro Nashville and the Harpeth Valley Utility District are running at half capacity and asking people to cut water consumption by half. We urge water customers to follow these conservation measures.”
President Barack Obama today authorized a major disaster declaration for four Tennessee counties – Cheatham, Hickman and Williamson and Davidson County, where Nashville is located. The declaration makes federal funding available to affected individuals in these four counties, including both individual and public assistance.
But just as that disaster declaration was approved, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen asked President Obama to declare 52 counties federal disaster areas.
“The swift reaction from emergency first responders was exemplary during this emergency situation,” said Governor Bredesen. “I want to thank local and state agencies that responded so quickly to evacuate, perform water rescues and assess any immediate damage and danger to the roadways.”
Bredesen toured affected areas of western and central Tennessee on Monday. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate was in Tennessee and Bredesen also spoke by phone with President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday.
As the severe storms and flooding swept across neighboring Kentucky on the weekend, four people lost their lives in Madison, Barren, Allen and Lincoln counties. Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency and 41 counties and 15 cities have issued emergency declarations either in writing or verbally.
“The safety of our citizens is my first priority,” said Governor Beshear. “That is why I urge individuals who encounter high waters to use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary contact with flood waters if at all possible.”
“Preliminary assessments indicate the largest impact is to infrastructure, which includes roadways and water/sewage treatment plants,” said John Heltzel, director of the Kentucky Division of Emergency Management. “We know there have been businesses and residents along many waterways that have experienced flooding and these numbers are likely to increase as run-off water continues.”
Major flooding is expected to continue in Tennessee and Kentucky, according to the National Weather Service.
The state of Tennessee is requesting that preliminary damage assessments be conducted jointly by FEMA and state agencies as soon as waters have receded enough to make reasonable determinations. The start date is projected for Monday, May 10.
“The state’s current budget circumstance is severe and unprecedented,” said Governor Bredesen. “I am requesting 100 percent federal assistance for the first 72 hours. Any aid received will assist with work and services to save lives and protect property.”