Our concert last Saturday in Speedwell, Tennessee was a wash, and not because of the rain. We arrived on site to this would-be country Woodstock a little after noon, and from the moment I stepped off the bus I knew something wasn’t quite right. You could just sense and feel the tension in the air.
Everything was in place for this mega-country bash – a great lineup featuring Rhett Akins, Jimmie Van Zant, Confederate Railroad,Bush Hawg, Matt Stillwell, and several others; a great concert stage and production; vendors; campsites – yes, everything was in place, except for the people. Somehow, despite considerable advertising, there were only 100 or so folks scattered across the giant field in front of the stage on this second day of the festival.
At this point we still remained optimistic as there have been plenty of shows that started out this way and still turned out okay. But our optimism would begin to fade quickly. As I began walking around looking for the promoter’s office, I started overhearing conversations that the festival was falling apart. Somebody said that the promoter was running out of money and that “the beer truck and the Porta Potty Company were pulling out.” Obviously, this wasn’t very encouraging news.
A few minutes later I found the promoter’s office and was greeted by the contact with whom I had advanced the show. When I asked him how it was going his reply was honest, but grim.
“Not good at all. The promoter is out of money and I’m not sure how this will all go down.”
“I suppose this means we won’t be able to get our bus stock?” I replied, half jokingly.
He responded, “That was one of the first red flags. When I told him I needed $300 to get bus stock for the different bands, he said he didn’t have it.”
“Ookaaay. I guess I should talk to him so we can figure out what we’re doing. ” I replied, realizing that if a three day festival was broke at noon on Saturday, and already losing their beer truck, that things could get ugly.
I walked into the next room to speak to the promoter, and saw that he was in a meeting with a couple of other event coordinators and three or four state police. Realizing this was not a good moment to approach him, I returned to the bus to tell Rhett and the gang of the situation. No sooner had I opened the bus door when a tall fellow wearing an orange “security shirt,” and sporting some really bad teeth, poked his head in and yelled into the front lounge where Rhett was sitting.
“Is that him, is that Rhett Atkins?” he yelled, incorrectly pronouncing Rhett’s last name.
“No, I’m Ricky Nelson.” replied Rhett playfully.
The fellows reply was astonishing, “You ain’t nothin’ to me, you’re just another feather in my bird!”
Quickly ushering him out the door, I assumed he was just really stupid and socially inept, or that maybe perhaps he was a meth-head.
A few minutes later I walked back to the promoter’s office to find out about getting some food. I asked if we could get some meal tickets for catering and if we could at least get a case of water and a case of beer. I was presented with meal tickets which were good for some “ham sandwiches” and chips, and I was also presented with an interesting box of bus stock consisting of:
1 case of spring water
1 open case of Bud Light (with about 8 beers in it)
1 jar of peanut butter
1 bag of corn chips
1 open bag of potato chips (about half full)
“Thanks, I guess somebody was already hungry.” I said, amazed that we got anything at all.
A little while later I was able to finally speak to the promoter who informed me that it was our option to play, and that he might be able to pay us “some money” but that it was unlikely he would be able to pay us our entire fee, and that this would be the case for the other bands as well. I told him I would check with the boss and get back to him.
After relaying all this to Rhett, he decided that in spite of not getting paid that we might as well play anyway, as we were already there. On the way back to the promoter’s office to relay this message some other folks who were hanging around backstage told me that they had heard the Porta Potties would be pulled out by seven o’clock, at which point the police or Board of Health would shut down the festival. When I asked one of the state troopers if he had heard anything like this, his reply was “yes, I have heard those rumors too, but I can’t confirm anything. I can tell you that we are pulling out our extraction team and that the remaining officers will be stationed on the perimeter.” I wasn’t entirely sure of this significance, but it sure didn’t sound good.
As I approached the promoter’s office, I could hear a loud argument. In front of the main entrance stood a big, tall state trooper, his arms folded in front in an intimidating power stance. As I got closer I heard several event workers demanding to see the promoter about their pay, as they had apparently heard rumors that they were going to get stiffed.
“I need to see him now!” demanded an angry worker.
“I’m sorry sir, nobody can see him right now.” the trooper stated firmly. After another minute of yelling and arguing by the crowd of 8 or so, the trooper restated his position – “Nobody is going to see him right now, I’m just doing my job and trying to make sure that nobody gets hurt or shot!”
Over my seven years of working as a road manager, this was the first time I had ever heard or seen anything quite like this, and the angry mob-like scene was enough to send me scurrying back to the bus. Along the way back to the bus a drenching rain set in, and we overheard more angry workers with comments about people getting shot. This would-be country Woodstock was beginning to look more like Altamont – only without the masses. Despite Rhett’s willingness to play for free, in light of the most recent developments, we decided it was best to head on down the road. I’ll have to check, but I’m pretty sure that getting shot is not one of the requirements in our rider.
After our hasty retreat we arrived safely back to our hotel, the Hampton Inn in Carryville, TN. A little while later, Nick, our drummer, received a text from one of his friends who was playing in another band at the festival – something to the effect of “We’re getting out of here before the shooting starts!”
From what we could tell, there were no riots and nobody got shot at the festival. But still, the whole situation was quite unnerving and unfortunate. Obviously, several other bands besides us were leaving town without their pay, as were many vendors and event workers. The festival goers who were in attendance were ultimately shortchanged. And the promoter obviously lost his shirt, not to mention credibility.
On a brighter note, we did have a great time hanging out at the Hampton Inn and the guys did enjoy a fabulous dinner at the local Waffle House!
Apopka, Florida here we come!
The Hampton Inn in Caryville, TN, was the most unique Hampton Inn we have ever visited – the walls of the lobby, hallways, and stairwells covered with hundreds of old photographs, newspaper clippings, and folk art and providing a retrospective of the old South. It even had an adjacent llama farm. I’m going to try to write a blog over the next couple of days as there’s not enough space to do it justice here.
With each day bringing horrific new insight and ever more uncertainty regarding the oil spill in the Gulf, it’s now more important than ever to become educated and aware about the world we live in. With that in mind, my wife Kelly and I have decided to start our own news blog site, The Normand Post. This forum which will exist to explore the problems facing humanity and all of the planetary systems, and start an open-ended dialogue to help create solutions.
In the meantime, I will continue my efforts to document the Tennessee flood, writing blogs and articles for my own site, and other websites as well.
One recent news story in Nashville, examined the temporary dumping station at Edwin Warner park for the massive amount of storm debris being collected around middle Tennessee. Every day a fleet of trucks makes rounds collecting piles of house debris, appliances, drywall, just about anything you can think of, and bring it to this temporary holding station where it is then trucked off to landfills throughout the state. I decided to take a drive by there today to see it firsthand. The debris is piled as high as the trees, on an area the size of a football field, and is a quite disheartening sight to see alongside some kids playing a game of soccer. Yesterday, when I went to the local dump near my house in Cheatham County, I noticed three large dump trucks dumping there, obviously part of this debris removal. What I found disturbing, was the mile-long trail of dirt leaving the dump in either direction, obviously spill off of what must be a now constant parade of trucks now dumping here from all over. More on that later.
I’ve also uploaded a new slideshow containing most of the flood and aftermath photos I have taken, with captions.
It’s been a busy week, and there have been many new developments I would like to share. On Monday, MSNBC posted an article I wrote about the flood on one of their websites, The Maddow Blog. My new contact at that website is urging me to continue reporting on the disaster, and submitting more articles. In the days since then, I’ve been conducting more research and compiling data for future writings.
I’ve also refocused my efforts toward completing my book. Right now my manuscript for “The Nashville Musicians Survival Guide” is sitting as one massive word document on my computer. As I have been away from the project for about a month, I have decided to turn it into a PDF and print out a couple of unformatted hard copies. I plan to read it cover to cover over the next couple of weeks to better assess where I’m at. I’ll also probably give a copy to a couple of my music industry friends to get some objective opinions. I’m pretty excited to have a copy, even a crude first draft, in my hand.
It’s been a pretty good week for musical activities as well. Earlier in the week I tracked a live drum session in my studio for a songwriter project I’ve been working on. I also spent some time recording guitar tracks and doing some finished mixing of the material. Last night I played with my classic rock and blues band, “The West End Rhythm Kings” at Cancun in Bellevue, and it was tons of fun, some much-needed music for the soul.
There’s also been one other exciting development this week. In my flood research for the Maddow Blog, I came across the website, climateprogress.org. I e-mailed the site’s editor, Dr. Joseph Romm, with some thoughts and questions about the Tennessee flood, as I have been wanting to talk to a climate expert ever since our extreme rain event. The result was some dialogue in which he encouraged me to submit a report on the disaster to post on his site, which just happens to be the biggest climate related website in the world. The article I submitted was a rewrite of one of my blogs from two weeks ago, with updated information, and a link to a photo slideshow that Kelly helped put together. In the coming weeks, I will be conducting more research to submit a series of articles to MSNBC and the Climate Progress website.
Not bad for a guitar player from New Hampshire.
For everyone that lived through the Tennessee flood of 2010, the flood is still here. While the water has receded from most areas, in general, the state is still a mess. Every day I continue to hear new stories about people and families affected by the flood, and some have still not received any help. In the absence of any real national media coverage, I have been making my own attempts to help this disaster gain further attention, and yesterday I may have caught a good break when the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC put my reporting and pictures on their website.
Last week I submitted some op-ed pieces to the nation’s largest newspapers, and yesterday, I’m not sure if this is a coincidence or not, the Washington Post published an article that draws on some of the points from my letter. I also believe the fact I was able to have some of my writings and pictures posted on the MSNBC website is significant. I have been writing about this disaster since it began, and by steadily chipping away at it, I now have a contact with somebody at MSNBC who wants to help the story gain attention. I plan to continue my efforts to help inform the rest of the world of our plight in the weeks to come, and I urge everyone to do the same. I think it’s extremely important that the message is put forth that the state of Tennessee, not just Nashville, has been devastated by this flood.
Please follow this link to my report on the MSNBC website and leave a comment under it. This will increase the likelihood that Rachel will discuss this disaster on one of her upcoming shows.
This photo was taken on May 18th on Highway 70 in Bellevue, Tennessee.
If you’ve been following my blog over the past week and a half, I’m sure you’re aware of what’s happened here in Tennessee. While I consider myself extremely lucky to not have lost anything in this flood, the experience of it all has, nevertheless, been exhausting. Being trapped in our home without power for three days, seeing the raging waters come within a half-mile of my home, watching the totality of this horrifying event on the local news in the days afterwards, and then observing the devastation in my community firsthand. And I have it easy. Some of my friends have lost all their musical equipment that was being stored at the Soundcheck rehearsal facility. For others across the state of Tennessee, losses go well beyond musical equipment.
Even though my family, home, or possessions are intact, being on the cusp of a disaster of this magnitude will inevitably change a person in some ways. We had several days of sunshine, thankfully, in the days immediately after the rain stopped. But then, rain was forecast for the weekend. Even though it was only predicted to be an inch or so, the thought of any rain at all, is now disturbing. I have awoken a few times in the middle of the night to visions of the brown murky floodwaters. You can’t drive very far in middle Tennessee without seeing flood damaged buildings, roads, and other ominous reminders. It’s been difficult to focus on many daily routines and tasks, but I am fighting my way back, and it is slowly getting better.
The main goal of this blog, initially, was to focus on the music business and other music related topics, as I am a musician by trade. But it’s been a battle to get my mind out of the storm, back to the business of music, and back to my nearly completed book project “The Nashville Musician’s Survival Guide”. It now seems so ironic that my book is about what it takes for a musician to survive the music business of Nashville, and now Nashville itself is faced with a plight for its own survival.
I will say that writing this blog over the past week and a half has been therapeutic for me. Kind of my own rebuilding process. I’m still thoroughly disappointed in the national media, and feel like we’ve been robbed. First we were raped and pillaged by the storm itself, and then to add insult to injury, ignored by the national media, as if our dire situation was insignificant. In the absence of a media based on real, Edward R. Murrow style journalism, I think it is now extremely important for all concerned citizens to help spread pertinent news stories that aren’t getting told. I have submitted my article “We Are Tennessee; Surviving the Flood of 2010” to several local and national print publications in an attempt for this story to gain further attention. And I will continue to write a few more blogs about our situation, as the struggle for Tennessee to rebuild will go on long after this story fades from the news.
In the days and weeks to come, I will also be working towards getting my head back into music, as well as tackling the seemingly impossible task of completing a book that is 95% done (it feels like the last 5% will drag on longer than the health care debate did). I will finish this book, as I feel compelled to do so, and know it will help many musicians. Of course, I will now have to add one more chapter about flood survival. In the meantime, I will continue working on getting back to normal.
The news of this disaster is getting out there. Volunteers are arriving from all over the country to help rebuild our communities, and we are truly grateful for this outpouring of goodwill. To help rally more support for the relief effort, I have rewritten my blog from last Wednesday, “We Are Tennessee”. This version paints a more total picture of the flood event and how the emergency response and recovery efforts have been handled so far. I realize it’s a bit long for a blog, but it’s a big story. Please help continue to spread the word. Peace
The rain began falling on the morning of Saturday, May 1st, 2010, and by the time it finished, just under 48 hours later; it had dumped between 12 and 20 inches across Middle and Western Tennessee, rendering 52 of Tennessee’s 95 counties disaster areas. Rivers that normally spanned 100 feet across swelled to widths of a half-mile or more, flooding cities, towns, and roadways, washing away homes and bridges, destroying businesses and infrastructure, and leaving thousands homeless. People died in their cars while trapped on flooding interstates and thousands more were stranded in remote communities without power or communication for days. Water plants were decimated, the Grand Ole’ Opry and many other historic buildings and icons damaged or destroyed, and more than $1 billion of damage had been sustained in Nashville alone. And where was our national media in all of this?
It’s now more than a week after this catastrophe began, and I’m still having a hard time grasping the totality of what has happened here. Each new conversation with family members and friends back in my native New England leaves me dumbfounded as to how little they’ve heard about this epic 1000-year flood, many first hearing about it from my phone calls and e-mails. Even a friend that I spoke with in eastern Tennessee was completely unaware that the western half of the state had just experienced what is likely to be the costliest non-hurricane water related disaster in American history. During the flood, and in the days that followed, mainstream news stations like CNN, MSNBC, and Fox, provided minimal coverage of this disaster, dwarfed by the Gulf oil spill, and the New York City car bomber. While those stories are certainly important, an event of this magnitude surely warrants more than just a sentence or two in the national spotlight.
Maybe there’s another reason the media paid so little attention, that being the efficient manner in which this disaster was handled. This disaster, which caused evacuations, power outages, and gridlock all over the state, was not accompanied by looting or other kinds of chaos that might otherwise have drawn the media in. The storm came quickly and without warning, decimating communities and infrastructure statewide, and all levels of government combined with an army of volunteers quickly began to mobilize.
“The President was on the phone to me before the sun came up practically on Monday morning” stated Governor Bredesen. “Slightly after it came up, other people from the White House had called and checked in. I’m very, very pleased with the response we’ve gotten from the administration.” he continued. FEMA administrator Craig Fugate, along with Bredesen and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, toured flooded areas later in the day. By Tuesday several counties had been declared federal disaster areas, which began to allocate necessary funding for the relief effort. Approximately 80 members of the Tennessee National Guard, manning 19 light to medium tactical vehicles engaged in water rescues and evacuations. The Red Cross was here helping organize relief efforts early on as well. Citizens interacted with local media to help present 24 hour news coverage during the event, as local Nashville and Memphis television stations received 40,000 photos and videos from viewers in the first 48 hours.
In the center of this immediate and massive effort were the people of Tennessee, with thousands of volunteers engaging from the onset, working as one unified collective with the various government agencies. From the very beginning of this disaster, a spirit of goodwill was evident.
One of my neighbors informed me that on Sunday, day two of the flood, the Publix in Bellevue used generator power to open the store, despite the electricity being down in that area. In addition to making food, water, and ice available, they also set up a long line of tables on which power strips were placed for local residents to charge cell phones. During the flood event, thousands of volunteers responded to different newscast announcements, showing up at multiple locations to help fill sandbags, assist with boat rescues, as well as a variety of other relief efforts. Community centers and churches across the state became havens for families who lost homes. Schools became water distribution centers. A local construction company owner who was being interviewed on the news said that he already began fixing the roads in his area, as the county road crews were overwhelmed. When officials announced the need to conserve water, water usage almost immediately decreased.
Wednesday, just four days after the flood began, marked the beginning of a three-day flood relief telethon in which many volunteers, including Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and several country music stars, came together to man the phones and help raise money for flood relief. Taylor Swift donated $500,000, with Vince Gill and several others making large donations as well. Benefit concerts are being announced daily. Nashville Mayor Dean announced that the demand for volunteers was going to steadily increase in the weeks and months to come, and people are responding.
This tragic event of epic proportions is the worst disaster to hit the state of Tennessee since the Civil War, yet our communities are working together. Under the exemplary leadership of Governor Bredesen, combined with the full cooperation of a wide range of local, state, and federal government agencies, the people, the ordinary citizens of this great state are having a huge impact. Neighbors are helping neighbors, people are donating and volunteering, and this event has helped create a sense of unity that is truly magical.
We are not begging the world for help, but to rebuild the communities across this state now shattered by this catastrophe, further assistance will be necessary. Thousands of the homes that were damaged or destroyed were in areas not in flood zones, leaving many homeowners with mortgages on homes that no longer exist, and without insurance money to rebuild. The same is true for many business owners as well. Many schools, hospitals, nursing homes, water treatment facilities, roads, bridges, rail systems, and other infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed over an area that spans thousands of square miles. This kind of damage can’t be repaired with just volunteer organizations alone, it’s going to cost billions of dollars and the money has to come from somewhere. In addition to losing their homes and all their possessions, thousands of Tennesseans have also lost their jobs and livelihoods, and this will inevitably put further strain on already stressed entitlement programs. This event has affected over half the counties in the state of Tennessee, not just the city of Nashville as the national media has implied, and it is this message that should be put forth.
Perhaps some good can come out of this catastrophe. This disaster has not just brought us closer together as a community, it stands to be a model of how our government can, and should work. A reminder of why government exists in the first place. With so many mounting problems in America today, it is encouraging that our leaders acted so quickly in this moment of despair, and the spirit of community and compassion this event has ignited should be a reminder of all that is good about America, and what we can do when we put our minds together.
So while the people of Tennessee are rebuilding, most of the nation has yet to learn of our predicament and it is unlikely that most will ever know the full extent of what has happened. We will survive, rebuild, and emerge from this wreckage, but as this news has been slow to reach the masses, I urge you all to help spread the word. Natural disasters on this level affect everybody as we are all interconnected. After Katrina, thousands of hurricane refugees relocated to neighboring states, Tennessee among them, and this flood event will inevitably have its own unique set of social and economic impacts that will be far-reaching as well. For many that lived through it, it’s possibly the single most important event of our lifetimes, its significance monumental. In the difficult weeks and months ahead, the people of Tennessee will continue to live, work, and reach out to those in need, because we are all in this together. We are Tennessee, and we are America.
If you need flood relief assistance or would like to volunteer or make donations, please visit the following websites:
Tennessee Emergency Management – www.tnema.org
Middle Tennessee Red Cross Chapters – www.nashvilleredcross.org
Hands on Nashville – www.hon.org
You can also dial 211 for volunteer opportunities if you live in Middle Tennessee
Yesterday, my wife and I took a drive to Percy Warner Park, one of our favorite spots in middle Tennessee. The Warner Parks are over 3000 acres of exceptionally maintained nature reserves, with a nature center, miles of hiking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas. Unfortunately, neither the Percy Warner Park nor the adjacent Edwin Warner Park escaped the wrath of this terrible flood.
As we drove into the Highway 100 entrance, the first thing we noticed was the road to the main parking lot was blocked. We were encouraged to see 20 or so cars parked alongside the entrance road, and several families picnicking in the immediate area, attempting to return to some kind of normalcy after such a horrific week. Upon walking past the barrier and down the main entrance road, we noticed caution tape around the playground which had been damaged by the waters. A little further down the paved road, we came to the open sided shed at the beginning of the trailhead, upon which a sign had been placed notifying us that the hiking trails are now closed due to dangerous conditions. A few feet beyond the shed we could see large sections of trail washed away leaving a twisted maze of root structures now exposed. A little ways up one of the paved roads we saw damaged trees, a few random piles of sticks and twigs, and gullys carved by rushing water along the sides of the road.
We couldn’t help but feel a little bit selfish in our newfound sadness. As so many families and individuals lost homes, businesses, and even loved ones, our thoughts of remorse over damaged hiking trails and playgrounds seems insignificant. But the Percy Warner Parks, like many parks throughout the state, represent a certain faction of daily life for many in middle Tennessee, and their preservation is a part of our heritage, so it was still painful to see the destruction. I know the parks will be fixed in time, but I’m sure their priority is lower, understandably, than the dire need to rebuild lives, homes, businesses, infrastructure, and communities across the state.
On a brighter note, the Steeplechase was held in the equestrian center area of the park this past Saturday, and thousands turned out for this annual event. While some have criticized the event for still moving forward, stating people shouldn’t be out having fun when so much cleanup is still needed, these critics were obviously unaware that the proceeds of this years steeplechase were being donated to relief efforts. It also helped many to begin to feel a little normal again.
The funny thing is, that the park, in reality, is fine. The trees are still growing, the streams are still flowing, and the birds are still singing, and they will continue doing so. It is our access that has been cut off. In the meantime, there are still some areas of the park that can be enjoyed, and I suppose we should at least be thankful for that. It was still a sad day at the park.
To see some more photos of park damage, follow this link to where another Tennessean has posted a photo journal of what he saw shortly after the flood.
It’s now Sunday, eight days into this new world of a waterlogged state of Tennessee. And although the Gulf oil spill is still the lead story in the national media, about to decimate ecosystems and local fishing industries across the Gulf, I just read an article that suggested the floodwaters in Tennessee could impact the Gulf fishing industry as well. Local fishermen in Gulf communities are fearing that as the floodwaters from the Cumberland River empty into the Mississippi River, the inherent rushing waters will push a large portion of fish into the oil. So far, most of my writings about this disaster, as well as the writings of others, has been about the effect that this flood has had on the people of Tennessee including the loss of life, the destruction of homes, businesses, and infrastructure. But what kind of effect will the flood have on nature, ecosystems, wildlife, and the environment at large? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, we will continue cleaning up, rebuilding, and moving ahead. I urge you all to help continue spreading the news of this disaster, as the minimal national media coverage we have received, will likely fade in the weeks to come.
If you would like to learn more about what is happening here, there are a series of well written articles that can be found at www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/tennessee-flooding. A telling photo journal can be viewed at www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/05/flooding_in_tennessee.html. And the following YouTube video also sends a strong message www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFjaQoOdJvI
It’s now Saturday, May 8th, one week into this life changing event, and I find myself feeling still off balance, having difficulty focusing on some of life’s normal routines. The images of an ocean of brown murky water coming within a half-mile of our house, cars submerged on interstate lakes, and neighborhood houses underwater continue to work their way towards the front of my mind.
Last night I worked in a nightclub in Bellevue, a gig I’ve played countless times before. As a musician, I had been looking forward to a night of music with friends, hoping and expecting it would help return some of us to some kind of normalcy. It was the first time I’d seen these friends since before the flood, and it was pretty hard to talk about anything other than the weeks catastrophic events.
My friend Nick from Bellevue was home Saturday when the rain first began, and lost electricity sometime that night. On Sunday, still without electricity, he was unaware of what was going on, and decided to drive down to see an afternoon movie. As he approached the movie theater, he was horrified when he saw the entire building submerged in three or four feet of water. My friend Danny from Kingston Springs, lives on a Hill, and while his family and home are fine, some nearby houses had been washed away. He had also learned that the Harpeth River near his house, normally spanning 115 feet across, had swelled to a staggering 2900 feet in width. Another friend, Doug from Bellevue, said that his home was fine, but other homes nearby were damaged or destroyed. Doug works as a plumber, and revealed that he’s already been fixing water damaged boilers, and while he believes many units can be saved, he is hearing about some profiteers claiming all water damaged boilers need to be replaced. Yet another friend, Pam, also from Bellevue, told us of working at the now filled to capacity Microtel Inn, where her duties now include shuttling flood refugees back and forth from the hotel to local stores to buy bare essentials. Everybody I spoke to had been touched by this event in one way or another, and we are all feeling a deep sense of connection, as this new common ground we will forever now share.
We started playing music around 7 PM, and the experience was almost surreal. I remember playing songs, yet feeling completely disconnected from the activity I was partaking in, almost as if I was watching myself from the other side of the room. The notes were all coming out right, but my mind was 1000 miles away, struggling to push back the images of horror that occupied my mind. The first 50 minute set seemed to happen in slow motion, with little reaction from the room full of somber patrons, eating their dinners and talking quietly. The night felt heavy and sluggish, and what is usually a warm-up set for our typically spirited group, felt more like a funeral march. Although the next set was more of the same, we were able to shake off some of this weight for the final part of the night, the music finally cutting through this dense air of disaster.
On the local news this morning, I learned that Hickman County, 50 miles southwest of Nashville, has been hit exceptionally hard by this flood, as over 100 bridges throughout the county have been crippled or destroyed. “The town of Centreville, and much of Hickman County, for four days, was an island unto itself, with no radio stations, no telephone service, AT&T or cellular, it was all out” stated Centreville’s mayor, Bob Bond. The county is still in emergency response mode, and thousands of feet of water line have been destroyed, rendering drinking water for the county’s 20,000 residents unsafe for the next 2 to 4 months.
Another news story told of concern for some of Davidson county’s immigrant communities, where many are still residing in water drenched apartment complexes. Although officials are trying to get them to relocate to shelters, many won’t leave, as they will lose their jobs if they aren’t at their usual place of residence for daily transportation pickups.
These kinds of stories are expanding exponentially, and although my family and I haven’t been injured or lost any physical possessions, we have been forever changed. We feel exposed and vulnerable, with a strange state of uncertainty now deeply embedded in our psyche. Many others we have spoken to have shared similar sentiments. It’s almost as if we were raped, held down and pinned to the wall by a mysterious powerful force for which there was no defense. I can’t imagine the feelings held by those who have it much worse, losing homes, businesses, everything, some even losing their loved ones, and my heart goes out to them.
I know things will improve slowly over time, and hopefully there will be a return to some kind of normalcy in the weeks and months ahead. But it is likely to be a new kind of normalcy, because so much has changed. For once you have lived through an event of this magnitude, seeing the devastation firsthand, and hearing the stories of those suffering, you are forever changed. The time is now for the people of Tennessee to be strong, hold your heads up, and move forward with strength, conviction and unity. I believe the human spirit is strong, and if we open our hearts and minds, we can, and will survive.
Wednesday, May 5th, marks day five of the Tennessee flood of 2010, and the story continues to unfold, with each new day giving larger perspective to the magnitude of this situation. This was the first day we had a chance to go out and see some of the damage firsthand, and what we saw is hard to put into words.
Several houses near the entrance to our development had received extensive water damage, their front yards looking like random flea markets of drying household items and furniture amidst dumpsters of debris and piles of water soaked carpet mounded on the lawns. An area about two or 3 miles further west on Highway 70 was exceptionally hard hit, with debris scattered across lawns amidst more piles of water soaked housewares. Several homes had received extensive structural damage, power lines were knocked down and laying on the street amidst broken asphalt, and a couple of concrete slabs revealed the location of houses that were swept away by the raging waters.
A couple hundred feet down the train tracks from the intersection of 249 And Hwy. 70, the force of water was massive enough to move entire sections of railroad tracks 8 feet to one side, with steel spikes ejected and lying on the ground amidst the giant steel rails, now concave and still connected to the ties. Just past the train tracks onto 249 heading towards Kingston Springs, the water line on the trees was 10 to 12 feet high, despite being a couple hundred feet from the Harpeth River, which normally flows about 15 feet below the plain.
Further down 249, just past the Kingston Springs high school, a large section of the road had been ripped up, with gigantic slabs of asphalt protruding in every direction, similar to road damage more typically associated with an earthquake. On Harpeth View Trail, a side street just past the middle school, a family could be seen sitting on the cement slab where their house once stood, one of several houses on that street that were completely washed away. About a mile further down 249 revealed that the elementary school had been under several feet of water, as was evidenced by the brown water line on the building and surrounding trees.
In Bellevue, just a few miles away from some neighborhoods that were almost completely destroyed, I stand in front of the water damaged kempo studio adjacent to the movie theater that has also been breached. In front of the movie theater, a police car blocks traffic from going west on Highway 70, as a massive landslide has completely blocked the road. All of this damage I just described took place within 10 miles of my home in Pegram, and only represents a fraction of the total amount that happened in these communities, communities that are a small piece of a far bigger jigsaw puzzle that now has to be put back together.
During a phone call to my friend Logan, he informs me that Clarksville, his town of residence, is still near its peak flood stage, with many businesses and homes still underwater. He also confirmed the rumor that the wastewater treatment plant has been underwater since Monday, and with the plant inoperable, Clarksville’s sewage has been flowing directly in to the Cumberland River. In a news article, Tisha Calabrese-Benton, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of environment and conservation, said a number of facilities upstream have been shut down as well. On the local evening news, I also learned that several counties are in a state of water emergency, as many water treatment plants have been damaged. Officials warn that while conservation efforts are underway, a stronger effort is needed.
Many that live in Tennessee, as well as other parts of the South, are always on the lookout for severe weather, with more people probably watching for tornado outbreaks than anything else. What I find most disturbing about this event was that this incomprehensible amount of damage was inflicted from a rainstorm. Even the most severe tornado outbreaks ever experienced in Tennessee pale in comparison to the amount of damage inflicted, and the total area affected by this rain event, an event that truly underscores the unyielding power of what a rainstorm can do.