Marooned on Pegram Island

It was just after noon on Sunday, May 1st, and the electricity was still down when we turned on our battery-powered weather radio. Now day two of the heaviest rainstorm we had ever seen, me, my wife Kelly, and our son Josh sat around the living room amidst an ambience of perpetual twilight, and listened to the computer-generated voice of Noah Weather Radio deliver a frightening and unsettling story. Round two of this marathon downpour had began in the early morning hours and was now causing many rivers across the state to reach flood stage. We were rendered speechless as this digital weatherman went down the list of where the different rivers in the different counties were about to, or already cresting, with the Harpeth River, about a half mile from our house in Pegram, Tennessee, among them. The list of road closures was also statewide, and hearing all of this news while sitting without electricity and in near darkness, seemed ever more ominous, as the voice telling the story was not unlike that of the Terminator, and void of all emotion.

I made a call on my cell phone to the power company, at which point I learned that the outage was widespread, but not much more. Unknowing of the duration of this storm event or the power outage, it was now time to take stock in our situation. We grabbed everything out of the refrigerator that could make for some cold meals; sandwich stuff, bread, cheeses, peanut butter, juice, and beer, and put it in a cooler with the remaining ice from our freezer. A house-wide search was conducted for all available flashlights, batteries, candles, matches, and board games. Confident that we were now set for a few days , I decided to walk next door and talk to my neighbor to see what he knew about the situation. He told me that the road at the bottom of our development hill is underwater, and that several houses in that area had been flooded. My mind struggled to comprehend his words, which seemed to just hang in the humid spring air, and this prompted further investigation as I just couldn’t visualize, and didn’t want to believe what I just heard.

Our house sits in the middle of a development near the top of a big hill, at least a hundred or so feet above the road below, and just a stone’s throw from the Harpeth River, one of several major rivers that snake through the valleys of middle Tennessee. As we neared the main entrance, the scene that came into focus was beyond words. Still raining heavily, we viewed the entrance to our development, and saw the top couple inches of a stop sign poking up out of the brown water from about 40 feet away, which was the closest we could get to the main street, now a lake spanning more than 100 feet across. To the left of the entrance, stood two beautiful two-story homes, now submerged in water that almost reached the second floor. To the right of the entrance, “Lake Harpeth” stretched as far as the eye could see, with several homes formally abutting the road now inaccessible and cut off, achieving an unwanted beach front status.

After a few minutes of taking in the eerie site, this natural disaster that was now a half mile from our home, we retreated to our safe haven on top of the hill. A few hours later the rain finally stopped, and we took a drive to check out one of the two other access roads. We didn’t get too far before we spotted another city truck blocking the road, and the impact of this flood was becoming more clear with each passing minute. From this new vantage point, we could see our community bank completely submerged, water 6 feet high, and above the windows. A brief chat with a city worker informed us that the garage next door was underwater, and that some people had to be rescued from the gas station by boat a little earlier in the day. We also learned that the power substation was underwater, and would require the floodwaters to recede before it could be assessed. After a few minutes of taking some pictures and video, we solemnly returned to our home.

We sat around the living room listening to the radio for news, as the darkness of night grew near. As we had no way to charge our cell phones, we stayed off them, reserving their power for as long as possible. We ate a little food, drank a few beers, and played a game of Scrabble to pass the time, but the mood was still a bit less than cheerful. In a typical power outage, one experiences minor inconveniences; a lack of the basic amenities normally taken for granted. But when the power goes out and you are stranded by way of a natural disaster, the feeling is much more of panic. Information becomes a commodity, as you struggle to gain perspective on your life situation. In an event of this proportion, without electricity, we lose almost all connection with the outside world, and are deemed naked and vulnerable, prisoners within our own homes. I hope the water recedes soon, and the power comes back on so we can reconnect with the outside world. Meanwhile, safe from the waters below, but cut off from what lies beyond, we wait, marooned on Pegram Island.

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