I, like many Nashvillians, just cannot find the words. Or perhaps it’s more that I have so many words crowding my head that I don’t know where to start. I am heartbroken. Simply heartbroken and overwhelmed at the devastation that has crippled our beautiful city and so many that call it home.
So I want to write this down, to get it out, to have something to remember it by and to give others who don’t live here, a chance to experience it second hand- from someone who was not directly affected this natural disaster but who will certainly never be the same because of it.
On Friday, April 30, I remember telling Tyson that it was supposed to rain all weekend, and that we should try to come up with project that we could work on inside. As expected, we woke up the next day to a heavy downpour but decided to go ahead and attend a family member’s baby shower as planned. Kyle left about the same time I did to go with his dad and stepmom to help his brother move into a new home. As we drove to Donelson around 10:00am, my first twinge of worry came when several times; I had to swerve to avoid deep standing water on Lebanon Road. And there was a lot of it. I remember thinking, “It’s supposed to rain all weekend, and it already looks like this?” I tend to be a weather-watcher any other day so the fact that I was glued to the television the rest of the afternoon was not an uncommon occurrence. I kept telling myself to not blow things out of proportion (I’m a “expect and prepare for the worst” kind of gal) but then the meteorologist said one simple sentence that I will never forget. “The viewers should know that very quickly, this is turning out to be an event that you will tell your grandchildren about.” I called Kyle and begged him to come home.
Later into the afternoon, the rain just wasn’t letting up. I kept in constant contact with Kyle, his dad, Gary and stepmom, Ruth. There they were, all huddled up in the cab of a truck slowly making the 30 minute interstate drive back from Murfreesboro. At one point in our conversation, I learned that they were sitting on the interstate- and making the decision on whether or not to get off at the Old Hickory Blvd exit on I-24W. “We’re not moving at all” Kyle said. “I think we’re going to try and get off now.”
Not two minutes later, this is the image I saw on my TV- which was one exit down from where Kyle, Ruth and Gary were sitting.
Once they got off the interstate, the normal 10 minute drive back into the city took them almost 3 hours. Ruth and Gary still had to drive to their home, 45 minutes away in Fairview. It took them another 2 ½ hours.
Sunday morning, we woke up and the water had risen to about 3 feet around us on 10 Ave N and was surrounding the brand new, not even opened Goodwill Training Center that sits directly in front of our house. (Fortunately, our condo sits on a rather steep hill and we were unscathed). For over a year, we watched this beautiful new structure being built. Aesthetically, it was the crown jewel amidst all the industrial relics in our downtown neighborhood. They had just put the furniture in the first floor. We watched the water rise to 4 feet- now it was almost halfway up the doors. It was just a building- but watching it being engulfed by that murky water was hard to watch.
Around 1:00pm Sunday afternoon, there was a break in the torrential downpour and it seemed the entire neighborhood scurried outside to check things out. The most shocking scene was on the other end of our street where we saw the Farmer’s Market, an entire half mile of Rosa Parks Blvd and the Dollar General parking lot all but completely submerged. The Dollar General’s doors and windows had busted and merchandise spilled out into the newly formed lake. I thought of a new ‘Used Furniture’ store that had just opened a few doors down. I thought of the owner and wondered if he knew. How devastating this would be for him and his family.
The rain subsided for about an hour and then it decided we had not had enough. It continued to fall well into the later part of the evening. And it was then that the enormity of the situation began to sink in for me. The news had already reported flood related deaths, massive loss of personal property and the threat of the Cumberland River spilling over its banks was at this point, not a matter of if, but when.
Monday morning, as I reluctantly saw Kyle off to work, the kids and I headed back out to survey the neighborhood. I stepped out of the garage into a web of blinding sun, dense humidity and an offensive stench of putrid water. We headed down 9th Ave where we saw that a neighboring condo complex- Row 8.9; which sits on Rosa Parks- was hit hard. I learned later that they had no power, and no way to get out. Most of the resident’s cars were under water. We walked through the KFC parking lot and looked down the now hidden street towards our beautiful city. I began to feel sick.
We crossed the street over beside the Farmer’s Market and into the Bicentennial Mall. I saw vendors carrying out their merchandise in sopping, wet bags. They looked lost and completely stunned. I hurt for them like they were my own family.
After our outing, we headed home where I was greeted by the news that the Cumberland River was now spilling into the city. Just a few miles down, it was taking over the Opryland Hotel, Opry Mills, The Opry House and most of the homes around it. I watched in horror. About an hour later, I received a message from a neighbor who helps organize events for Hope Gardens. She suggested we knock on the doors of the residents who live in Row 8.9. We would offer resources such as a phone, food, internet access, a cool place to rest or a hot shower. I met up with Rebecca and away we went. We found that most were not home and the ones that were, had made arrangements to stay with friends or family. We stopped again to stare out into the black lake that used to be a road. I swallowed hard and choked back the tears.
As we walked back to our dry, comfortable and cool homes, we began to discuss other ways that the flood was affecting our area and what we could do to help. She pointed out a fact that I had known, but didn’t even think about until that moment. While we are fortunate enough to live in a nice home, the majority of our neighborhood is considered “economically underprivileged.” Many of the children who live in the area are on a program that gives them free breakfast and lunch while at school. The sad truth is that for a lot of them- when they’re not in school- they don’t eat well. And in some cases, they don’t eat at all. We enlisted the help of two neighborhood girls that were hanging out with us to help spread the word; a picnic lunch for our Hope Gardens kids would be provided the next day. Kyle and I covered the sandwiches (bet you can’t guess from where) and the brownies (because I’ll take any excuse to consume massive globs of brownie batter) and Rebecca handled the rest. I love it when a plan comes together. Rebecca reported this morning that many kids, a few adult residents and several police officers enjoyed the food and really seemed to appreciate the gesture. Finally, I felt like I had done something to help.
Now it’s Thursday, May 6. We are five days out from when this all began. The national media is slowly picking up on the fact that this is a big deal. That people lost their lives. They lost their homes. There are reports of suicides. 11 counties have been declared disaster areas with many more expected to make that list. Mayor Karl Dean is estimating the cost of this flood to top the 1 billion dollar mark; billion- as in million- but with a “B”. Most possessions can be replaced- still some cannot. I see pictures like these:
A woman who lost her grandmother’s 100 year old bible:
A mother salvaging pictures of her kids:
The Grand Old Opry- where hundreds of items- irreplaceable country music memorabilia have been destroyed:
A family walking away from their home- not knowing what will be left when they return:
And so now- the recovery begins. And begun it has. I have taken it upon myself to be a bit of a watchdog for new information on recovery efforts and pass them along the best way I know how- Facebook. My love/hate relationship with this social networking oasis has certainly proved to be a valuable communication tool in a time like this. I am astounded by all that has been organized thus far. Astounded and touched beyond anything I’ve ever experienced so personally. I've fallen in love with this city all over again. So glad to call it home.
So that’s it, for now at least. I simply needed to say a few things out loud. I’m drained but so looking forward to helping clean the Farmer’s Market tomorrow. I’ll be sure to take pics and keep you guys updated. Meanwhile- here are a few other memorable pics from the last few days.
Please keep Nashville and the entire state of Tennessee in your prayers. We need them all....