Bellevue, Tennessee, is a quiet little town which sits on the scenic Harpeth River on the edge of Metroplitan Nashville/Davidson County and Warner Park. Normally the Harpeth River and one of its tributaries wind gracefully through the Bellevue hills and meadows. I live on a hillside off of Highway 70 which runs alongside the Harpeth River tributary as it flows into Bellevue. Usually locals pay little attention to the picturesque river running serenely below the highway. That all changed on May 1 and 2, 2010.
Bellevue Flood — Saturday, May 1, 2010
Bellevue residents had seen the forecast — rains and tornado warnings as a storm front rolled in, but what no one predicted was the massive amount of rainfall Nashville would get over the weekend. As the heavy rains continued to drench the area, impromptu streams began to run down driveways and hillsides. Water began to accumulate in low areas. The meandering Harpeth River began to rise, and low-lying fields and streets were soon covered water. By the afternoon, ten inches of rain had fallen in Nashville, and some areas had seen more. Residents began to be evacuated from Franklin, Antioch and Bellevue.
Because I live on a hill, I assumed the waters would pass me by. However, there is more hillside behind my house, and by Saturday afternoon, I noticed the water was ponding behind my house and running into the patio where it was partially trapped by the two walls which flank my patio. While I watched the water rise and pour into my crawl space below, other homes were starting to see the waters rise much more significantly. Saturday afternoon we lost power in my part of town. I posted Bellevue power outage from 2:30 – 5:10 to my Facebook page May 1 at 5:12pm.
By Saturday evening, more than 20 roads were closed in the Nashville area including Highway 70 in Bellevue. I began to hear helicopters flying overhead as searches for survivors began up and down the Harpeth River. The search helicopters continued their efforts for about a week. Every day we heard them and at night their search lights could be seen.
Bellevue Flood — Sunday, May 2, 2010
By Sunday morning, the Harpeth River crested at 35 feet and rain continued to fall. I kept my Facebook friends up to date with the following posts:
May 2 at 8:24 AM — Water is ponding behind my house several inches deep and getting close to the top of the door step. If this keeps up, it won’t be good.
May 2 at 8:56am — I think my brother may have been evacuated. I have called 4 different agencies and can’t find out anything.
May 2 at 9:14am — I just want to find out where my brother is. He lives on the other side of Bellevue near the Harpeth River, and different news reports have named his street and the two streets near his as evacuation areas. He’s not answering his phone and his answering machine is not coming on. The number I called from an WSMV article told me to call Lipscomb. Lipscomb told me to call the Red Cross (and I think the 1st number I called was affiliated w/Red Cross). Red Cross told me to call the Sheriff’s Dept. Then I was told to call the Police Dept., but that number has been busy for the past 15 minutes. I’m sure he’s fine, but he doesn’t handle emergencies well and doesn’t always assess safety issues well.
May 2 at 9:33am — I was on hold with the Police Dept. for 15 minutes and just got disconnected. Now the line is busy again.
May 2 at 9:34am — Now I am getting a busy signal on my brother’s phone, too, so maybe he’s home.
This was my last post as I lost my electricity and phone service after that. Not only had the Harpeth River crested into the highway, but the flood waters caused massive mudslides to carry trees, telephone polls and power lines into the street which remained blocked for a week. My neighborhood was effectively cut off from the rest of the world not only by the rising water and mudslides, but by the loss of electricity and phone service. We later learned that not only had the phone lines and power lines been knocked down, but the AT&T facility in Nashville had been flooded, so the entire city was without phone service. Many areas also lost electricity, cut off by flood waters, mudslides and debris.
Water rescues were being carried out across Nashville, and I could hear the constant rumble of helicopters overhead. According to the Tennessean, more than 600 water rescues were carried out in Davidson County throughout the day. Shelters were being set up including the one at Lipscomb University where I was told my brother stayed.
By Sunday afternoon, more than 50 roads had been closed across Davidson County. Bellevue was listed as one of the hardest hit areas in Nashville/Davidson County for road closures. Across Nashville, public schools were closed and flights were canceled. The Tennessean reported an estimated 36,000 Nashville Electric Service customers had lost power across the city with 16 power lines and 20 telephone poles down on May 2. Again, Bellevue was reported as one of the areas hardest hit by power outages. Fortunately, having written an article on “Surviving a Power Outage,” I keep a supply of lanterns, candles and other supplies on hand for such emergencies, but even with several lamps and lanterns lit, the house was dark and quiet, and the neighborhood was pitch black except for the occasional spotlight from a passing helicopter.
By the end of May 2, at least 5 people had drowned in Nashville including two people found dead in a car floating upside down on Sawyer Brown Road between my brother’s neighborhood and mine. The rains finally tapered off on Sunday. However, the Corps of Engineers began to release water from various dams in Middle Tennessee to protect the dams after record high lake elevations. While the controlled release kept the dams from sustaining damage that could have resulted in further catastrophe, the release caused additional flooding in Nashville and Bellevue. However, cut off by mudslides, loss of power and phone service, I had no idea what was going on and could only worry and pray for my brother’s safety and for those in his area.
Bellevue Flood — Monday, May 3, 2010
Monday was our first day without heavy rain. Highway 70 was still closed and signs on the street warned of downed power lines. However, the small mudslide on the other side of Highway 70 had been cleared, so I took the back roads into town to look for my brother. See my slideshow for photos of what I saw.
As I was driving down Sawyer Brown Road several blocks from his street, I saw my brother walking down the road wearing a green John Deere shirt and jeans. I pulled over and asked him if everything was OK. Where was he going? Was he stranded? Where was his truck? Did he need any help? He assured me everything was fine. His truck was at home and he was just walking to a friend’s house. I had no way of knowing that he was not telling me the truth. Seeing the congestion ahead on Sawyer Brown, I turned around and headed back home passing many stores like Toys R Us and Michaels that were closed and would remain closed for a week. Other stores had signs posted saying they could only take cash because phone lines were down.
I also passed a military vehicle with a boat in the back named the “Liberator.”
Forgetting that Highway 70 was still closed, I approached the Hampton Inn in Bellevue, and noticed a number of emergency vehicles and activity. I pulled into a parking spot to watch boats bringing people out of the submerged neighborhoods to the west to dry land across a ballpark and road which had become a lake. Helicopters circled overhead. Heading back out the long way, I returned home, but not before stopping at Bellevue Community Church to borrow a cell phone so I could have a friend post to my Facebook page that I was fine and had found my brother.
I still had no power or phone service and later learned that an estimated 9,000 people had no power in Nashville with at least 2,000 still in shelters on Monday. I discovered both of my back doors had become wet in spite of outer storm doors — one door was swollen shut and the other had a stuck dead bolt. My refrigerator began defrosting itself all over my kitchen floor due to the power being off for so long. What I could see of my crawl space showed a moisture barrier which was rippled, bulged, and out of place. My house had developed a dank smell. I wondered if the extensive run off from the hill behind me, which had reached the top of my door step, had leaked in somewhere. On the plus side, I found a battery-operated radio so I was finally able to hear the news and learn how extensive the flood damage was. Although the rains had ended the day before, water levels continued to rise on both the Cumberland and the Harpeth River.
Bellevue Flood — Tuesday, May 4, 2010
On May 4, President Obama declared Davidson County a disaster area.
I had started to adjust to the “take care of things while it is light” mentality, and I did chores that required the most light during the day. I continued to hear reports on the radio about the terrible flood damage across Nashville.
Late that afternoon the power to my area was finally restored, and I sat glued to the television reports of the flood devastation for a couple of hours. If you remember those pictures of New Orleans after Katrina hit where you could only see the tops of trees and house surrounded by a sea of water, that’s what many areas in Nashville looked like, including Bellevue. Nashville residents were being advised to conserve water since reserves were down to 37%, which seemed strange when so much water was all around us.
I also learned that although many events had been canceled across Nashville, TPAC was still going to present “A Chorus Line.” Since a friend was coming down from Knoxville to see it on opening night with me, I drove in to Nashville as planned, taking a couple of detours due to road closures. I wasn’t sure she was still coming, but I was not surprised to find her waiting for me in the lobby. She was staying at the Hermitage Hotel which was the only hotel in downtown Nashville which had hot water at the time. “We haven’t heard anything about this flooding in Knoxville,” she told me as we discussed the Nashville flood destruction. We saw the musical and even attended the cast party afterward at Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse as the guests of two of her friends in the cast. I was less interested in the cast and much more interested in the food as all I had eaten for three days was pop-top Chef Boyardee spaghetti straight (and cold) from the can along with peanuts, potato chips and tap water. It was almost surreal to be in the middle of such a celebratory and fun atmosphere when I knew soon I would be driving back to the devastation of Bellevue.
Bellevue Flood — Wednesday, May 5, 2010
On Wednesday, there was still no phone service in Bellevue. I drove to Bellevue Baptist Church to see if I could use the phone, internet or a cell phone there, but they had no service. They offered me a sandwich instead which I was happy to accept after three days of Chef Boyardee! The church suggested I try the disaster center set up at the Bellevue Community Center. I was able to use their computer for a few minutes to check on a couple of my email accounts and to send a few messages to key people and businesses letting them know where I was and what was going on.
Benefit concerts for flood victims began to take place around town on the 5th including one at the local Loveless Cafe
Bellevue Flood — Thursday, May 6, 2010
Anderson Cooper and his entourage finally arrived in Nashville on the 6th.
After five days of devastation, Nashville and Bellevue got a small bit of national media attention for the terrible natural disaster which had caused such extensive damage to Middle Tennessee.
I returned to the disaster center at Bellevue Community Center to apply for FEMA aid to see how bad the damage might be to my crawl space and if there was any other flood damage I might not have caught. However, since I still did not have phone service to set up an appointment, I decided to hold off on filing. While I was using the computer, Mayor Karl Dean came in an orange t-shirt and jeans, shaking hands and asking us if we were getting everything we needed. I didn’t recognize him without the suit and tie and had to ask him who he was as he shook my hand. (See photo #4). I was also able to post a message for the 2nd time since Sunday to Facebook: I am at a disaster center in Nashville where they are letting me use a FEMA computer to let people know I am OK. No phone/internet at home. May 6 at 1:35pm
By Thursday, I had heard the street where my brother lives mentioned several times as a place of heavy flooding. Despite his assurances on Monday that everything was fine, I decided to drive by and see how close the flood waters had come to his house and to check in with him. Imagine my horror on arriving at his house to find all his belonging piled in his front yard – everything from clothes to furniture – and to discover the inside of his house was gutted of drywall and flooring throughout his house. His ruined truck stood in the driveway with the door ajar. The neighbors said they tried to get him to follow them out when the water was about two inches deep, but he wanted to ride with them, so he left his truck behind where it sucombed to the flood. They thought he was staying at his church, but no one had any contact information for him. I immediately drove to Bellevue Church of Christ where he sometimes attends, but no one appeared to be in touch with him there. From his workplace I learned he had walked to work one day and then had not been back. They thought he was staying with a family member.
For the past 6 days using borrowed phones, I have not been able to determine where my brother is staying, only that he appears to be fine when people have spotted him. While I waited to hear from him, I spent three days combing through the wet bags and debris in his front yard trying to salvage something. I ended up with several bags of damp t-shirts which I have been treating with a bleach solution to decontaminate them from any mildew. I rescued a very minute portion of his knick-knacks and am in the process of washing them off with a bleach solution.
Bellevue Flood — Friday, May 7, 2010
On Friday, Mayor Karl Dean set the damage figure for Nashville at $1.5 billion and warned it would go up. 3,000 customers remained without power. Thankfully, I was not one of them. We finally got a name for the person those helicopters had continued to search for in Bellevue – Danny Tomlinson was last seen when his car headed into deep water in Bellevue. Although he tried to back out, his car was swept away. While his body had not yet been recovered, he was presumed to be drowned.
On the personal front, I went by Bellevue Church of Christ again to see if there was any word from my brother, but no one had heard from him. I left four large bags of clothes I had decontaminated at the church since no one could call me and the highway was still blocked, and I put the word out at his job and with friends that the clothes were at the church for him.
Bellevue Flood — Saturday, May, 8, 2010
While searching through the debris at my brother’s house on Saturday, I cut my hand on a piece of glass. I didn’t think anything of it and continued working until one of his neighbors said they had been told sewage had leaked into the water and people who got cut were supposed to be up to date on tetanus (which I am) and supposed to get a Hepatitis shot. I called my doctor who informed me doctors were debating the pros and cons of the Hepatitis shot and that she could not advise me one way or the other. I decided my days of digging through debris were done.
Bellevue Flood — Monday, May, 10, 2010
I applied for FEMA aid and gave them my home phone number, trusting that my service would be restored in time for FEMA to contact me. I stopped by Bellevue Church of Christ, but no one there had heard from my brother yet.
Bellevue Flood — Tuesday, May 11, 2010
My phone service was finally restored Tuesday afternoon. I bought a dehumidifier to handle some of the mold and mildew issues in my house, so I believe I am well on my way to getting back to normal. I hope people like my brother and others who lost everything are able to put their lives back together without too much trauma.
It is my hope this personal glimpse inside the “flood of the century” here in Nashville will help convey the way our 21st century technologies, utilities and services can collapse overnight; how quickly floods, mudslides and debris can block our streets and highways and leave us stranded and cut off; how easy it is to be without knowledge of tragedies occurring in our own cities; and how families who live within a couple of miles of each other in the same community can be separated with no form of contact when a natural disaster like the Nashville flood occurs. I later learned a friend of mine lost track of his teenage son who went out the first night it was raining and then couldn’t get home due to the extensive flooding. The boy was evacuated from two different homes over the next two days. His anxious family, who lost power and could not keep the cell phone charged, completely lost touch with him.
After watching the debacle which followed Katrina, I am overwhelmed with pride in Nasvillians who quickly organized themselves into teams to help their neighbors. Although our Nashville mayor and our police and fire departments along with the Red Cross and other organizations worked quickly and tirelessly to offer aid and assistance, the people of Nashville didn’t wait for the government to help them, but got out and helped each other. Neighbors and churches were out in full force, going house to house, street by street taking care of one another. By the time FEMA arrived, the locals had already completed much of the clean up. Benefit concerts and events have been going on continuously as Nashvillians continue to help their neighbors. Kudos to you Nashville. You make my heart proud.
Click on the numbers above the photo to see more photos of “The Flood of the Century” in Bellevue, Tennessee. To see my entire slideshow see: ‘The Flood of the Century’ – the Nashville Flood of 2010 Slideshow.
Further reading about the Nashville flood at:
Nashville Flood Hits Edwin Warner Park
The Obama Nashville Flood Scandal
Stellar lineup at Nashville Rising included Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Faith Hill, Sandra Bullock
Brandon Heath and Jason Ingram host ‘Love Your Neighbor Concert’ to benefit Nashville flood victims