The Quiet Katrina; Four Months of Rain in a Day
It’s now Tuesday morning, May 4th, and the local news is announcing that while the Cumberland River in downtown Nashville has crested with the waters now receding, Ashland city and Clarksville are still at flood stage. Several city blocks in downtown Nashville are now without power as basement vaults are flooded. A caller on the morning news explains that their location, Pinnacle Hill in Kingston Springs, is a hilltop community that is still inaccessible, and that there are many families running out of food, with some in need of medical attention. There is water in the basement of the Opry House and the Country Music Hall Of Fame, both of which contain irreplaceable archives and memorabilia. Another news story shows a business owner standing in front of a sea of tractor-trailers trucks, his livelihood of 31 trucks and hundreds of trailers underwater and destroyed. Other video footage reveals roadways with damage that would otherwise be associated with an earthquake. The Opryland hotel, which accounts for 1/5 of the available hotel rooms in Nashville, announces it will be closed for months, inevitably leaving hundreds, if not thousands jobless. Hard-hit communities across the state share similar tragic tales ranging from loss of life to power outages, impassable roadways to pending water shortages, and homes and businesses either being damaged, destroyed, or completely washed away.
Amidst the disaster are a couple of rays of hope. The weather forecast predicts clear sunny days for the rest of the week, with only a slight chance of rain on Friday. Calls for volunteers are also being answered with thousands of people chipping in to help with the recovery process. A televised press conference in the middle of the day presents a steady stream of officials, each making announcements pertaining to specific areas of disaster relief. While the officials did provide much useful information, evidence of an overall lack of preparedness, organization, and communication is revealed, as the website they direct citizens to for disaster relief, Tennessee.gov, had not been updated since Sunday afternoon, and contained outdated information. One city official announced that floodwaters are unsafe and may contain raw sewerage, chemicals, and unknown dangerous objects, and to stay out of the water. A short while later another news story showed children playing in the water, and an adult attempting to water ski through floodwaters behind a pickup truck.
Upon calling a few friends that lived in neighboring communities, I learned the fate of a few other areas less covered by the news. One friend in Kingston Springs informed me that five or six houses had been completely washed away on his street. Another told his tale of driving home from a friend’s house with his three-year-old daughter on Saturday night, when a foot of water came rushing across the road and swept his vehicle to the side, stalling his vehicle. After 20 harrowing moments stuck in the rushing water, they were able to return to their friends house where they stayed until Tuesday, at which point they discovered a mile and a half hike was now required to get to their now in accessible home in White Bluff which sat intact right next to a neighbor’s house that was completely washed away.
A little later, a news story announced that the army corps of engineers was releasing water from the areas dams at strategic intervals. Throughout the day, I periodically switched from local news to national media stations such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and other national news programs, and was thoroughly disturbed to see the Tennessee flood getting little to no coverage. By mid afternoon, the CNN website used a small portion of this event as the lead story. Barely scratching the surface, the info put forth implied this storm mainly affected Nashville, when the reality is that it has impacted hundreds of thousands of people over thousands of square miles With the loss of life is in the dozens, the economic and infrastructure damage , however, will likely be in the billions, as this storm system has produced catastrophic damage not only across much of Tennessee, but in the neighboring states of Mississippi, Arkansas, and Kentucky.
This monumental 500 to 1000 year event, came with little warning. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, which first made its introduction days in advance by way of big scary radar images on radar, this storm looked like a typical round of heavy rain and severe weather. No one could have known the system was going to stall right over Tennessee. Nevertheless, it did, dumping between 12 and 20 inches of rain, 28% of our annual rainfall, in less than 48 hours. And while it doesn’t have the dramatic buildup, high death toll, and scenes of looting, this event is potentially as ever far-reaching in terms of human suffering due to a natural disaster. While the local news of middle Tennessee has provided much coverage so far, most of this coverage has been for Davidson County, with minimal attention to the rest of Tennessee. The national news media has completely missed this epic disaster, with a few slight exceptions. While the oil slick off the gulf of Mexico, and the New York City car bomber, are certainly important stories, they are not the only stories. In the age of 24 hour news media coverage, there is no excuse for this kind of ineptitude and shortsightedness. Where are all the journalists hiding, for they have missed the quiet Katrina.