Flood recovery worries poorer victims in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Raging torrents had shot furniture through walls and pushed houses into the street near Nashville's historically black Fisk and Tennessee State universities. Only a few tents tops poked above the floodwaters on Wednesday where dozens of homeless once lived along the still-swollen banks of the Cumberland River.

As the city's vibrant country music scene gets the attention, less affluent victims wondered Wednesday how they will recover from the deadly floods.

"Being a minority we're the last on the list. That's just the way it is," said Troy Meneese, a 47-year-old custodian, as he aired out water-logged shoes, a couch, chairs in his yard in front of his brick one-story home in north Nashville.

As Nashville's Cumberland River continued to recede Wednesday, Mayor Karl Dean estimated the damage from weekend flooding could easily top $1 billion. The flooding and weekend storms killed at least 29 people in three states.

The flooding caused by record-busting rains of more than 13 inches in two days sent water rushing through hundreds of homes, forcing thousands to evacuate - some by boat and canoe - affecting both rich and poor in this metropolitan area of about 1 million.

In Meneese's neighborhood, some residents and community members said they felt neglected, especially compared to the attention they believed country music attractions and more affluent neighborhoods were receiving.

His next-door neighbor, 73-year-old Evelyn Pearl Bell thumbed through her water damaged items before she got so exhausted she had to take a break as temperatures climbed into the 80s. Volunteers had come by her house, saying they would help. But as of midday, no one had shown up.

Therman Bryant stood in his brother's home and described how powerful flood waters made it look as though somebody set off dynamite. The house had four large holes from where furniture went blasting through the walls, and a water line could be seen about 5½ feet above the floor.

"It was like a raging river that came in here," said Bryant, 58.

Police conducted house-to-house searches in some parts of north Nashville on Wednesday, but some wondered if they should have comer earlier.

"Search and rescue teams seem like they just got here. It's a little late," said Howard Jones, 47, a pastor who came to the area to see if he could help. He said the neighborhood was particularly vulnerable because many elderly residents lived there.

Nearby at a shelter, Sandy Bowman looked for help. She and her 6-month-old son were living with her aunt near Tennessee State University when firefighters rescued them by boat early Sunday. Since then, they have been at a shelter, unable to bathe or return to their apartment.

"I have nothing," Bowman. "I have nowhere to go. My child has nothing. All he has is food and a couple diapers, and that's because the shelter gave them to us."

Nashville's mayor and other officials visited a relief center in the north Nashville where food, water, tetanus shots and recovery information are available. The mayor, who has identified the area as one of the hardest hit, said it was important for officials to be on the scene checking on the response effort.

North Nashville resident Ralithea Hill said she thought the mayor was doing a good job.

"I think it's really important for them to at least show up. It makes you feel important because all we kept hearing about (on the news) was Bellevue and it was like did they forget about us," said the 39-year-old surgical technologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She lost everything in her home because of the flood.

Only a few tents could be seen in the murky brown floodwaters at the city's so-called tent city, home to about 140 homeless people under an interstate bypass on the banks of the Cumberland. A scattering of residents were there Wednesday, looking to see if they could recover any of their possessions. Most were doubtful they would ever live there again.

"People are trickling down here all day long trying to see how far the water has receded and if they can go back in and get anything. But it's a toxic area, said Raphael McPherson, 47, as he looked for his black Persian cat named Jack. The one-room wooden structure with a back porch that he built five years ago at the site was nowhere to be seen.

The National Weather Service in Nashville said Wednesday the river had fallen about 3 feet from its crest of 12 feet above flood stage Monday night. The flash floods were blamed in the deaths of at least 18 people in Tennessee alone, including nine in Nashville. Another 10 deaths from the weekend storms were reported in Kentucky and Mississippi, and one person was killed over the weekend in a tornado in Tennessee.

Though officials said there had been a decrease in requests for search and rescue, police in Memphis said a 32-year-old man was missing since Saturday after he abandoned his car because of high flood waters. In Kentucky, authorities also were searching for a missing kayaker last seen on the Green River.

Damage assessments were also ongoing at some of Nashville's country music hotspots.

It could take at least three months before Gaylord Opryland Resort, a massive entertainment complex that includes a hotel and the Grand Ole Opry House, has guests again, said Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed. Flooding appeared to have destroyed the first floor of the sprawling complex, and nine acres of atriums were full of water.

In the meantime, the Grand Ole Opry moved its shows to other concert halls in Nashville.

Some restaurants and bars in Nashville's historic downtown also were closed and without electricity, but other entertainment venues weren't damaged, including the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the 118-year-old Ryman Auditorium.

On Wednesday, officials also said Nashville's submerged water plant had dried out enough for workers to start repairs and try to get the plant back online. But Scott Potter, Nashville's director of water services, still warned residents to use water sparingly for hygiene and cooking until the plant returns to service.