A flood-carried car leans against a tree in a creek in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday. Heavy rains flooded streets, sank vehicles and left many people in need of rescue. Mark Humphrey / AP hide caption
Mark Humphrey / AP
Mark Humphrey / AP
Authorities in Nashville, Tennessee said four people were killed and 130 rescued after near record levels of rainfall caused significant flooding across the area.
The Nashville Office of Emergency Management said in an update on Sunday morning that rescue workers are continuing to conduct rescue operations after the storm that soaked the area from a total of 7 inches of rain.
“Even if it looks beautiful outside, we want people to be cautious and aware, stay vigilant and stay alive,” said William Swann, director of the Nashville Fire Department, at an early afternoon press conference.
According to the National Weather Service in Nashville, Sunday lunchtime rain had subsided in most parts of Middle Tennessee. But parts of the area remain on flash flood watch throughout the evening, and officials are urging the public to remain vigilant as rising streams and rivers pose an ongoing flood risk.
“Continue to avoid flooded roads and refrain from swimming or walking through high water,” the agency said in a Facebook post. “Not only could you get carried away unexpectedly, but that water could also contain chemicals and sewage.”
Around 1,700 customers will be without power early Sunday afternoon, up from 4,600 in the early morning, said John Cooper, Mayor of Nashville. He added that first responders are still telling residents to avoid certain areas and road closures and other conditions can be monitored on an emergency website.
Metro Nashville Police Department said they found the remains of four people believed to have been killed in the floods. A man was rescued from a limousine that was flooded with water flowing from a stream. A second man was found dead on a golf course and is said to have been “swept away by floods after getting out of a car that ran off the street into a sewer.”
Police later said they discovered the bodies of a man and a woman near a homeless camp in a wooded area that was hit by flooding from a nearby stream.
MNPD Urban Search & Rescue officials have just rescued a deceased man from this Honda sedan that was flooded from the creek next to Wal-Mart in Harding Pl & Nolensville Pk. Was submerged. pic.twitter.com/xxppLhIM94
– Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) March 28, 2021
At the press conference, Nashville Police Chief John Drake attributed three of these deaths to Seven Mile Creek flooding and gave the ages of the confirmed victims. He said the man in his vehicle is 70 years old, the man on the golf course is 65 years old and the victims of the homeless camp are a 46-year-old woman and a 64-year-old man.
Drake also noted that an officer is in the hospital recovering from injuries after being swept away by currents during an attempted water rescue attempt. He said the officer managed to get out of his car and cling to a tree until help arrived, and that a citizen who tried to provide help was also stranded.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” warned Drake at the meeting. “It’s not over yet. Although the water may not be as eventful today, we still need to pay attention to it.”
The mayor also said the Cumberland River should hit its 40-foot high tide level around 1 p.m. local time and peak at 41.9 feet just after midnight. The Harpeth River passed its 20-foot high tide early Sunday morning and should peak at 27.4 feet around 7 p.m. local time.
The NWS tweeted in the early morning that numerous water rescues were in progress in South Nashville, describing the situation as life-threatening and citing reports of “people holding onto trees”.
Just two feet of running water can sweep a vehicle away, the emergency management office warned. An update released at 7:30 a.m. local time said the Nashville Fire Department rescued at least 130 people from cars, apartments and houses.
In one case, the authorities said, workers rescued at least 15 people who were stranded in a building whose “structure was affected by a landslide”.
First responders also helped rescue around 40 dogs from Camp Bow Wow, a daycare center, and got them safely to a nearby facility.
The Emergency Management Bureau works with the American Red Cross to provide shelter for those displaced by the floods. Cooper said at the news conference that the first responders were walking in creek beds and working with the Red Cross to advertise affected neighborhoods.
“As always, Nashvillians help each other in difficult times. This is no exception,” Cooper said. “And please mask yourself, reach out and help your neighbors.”
⚠️ Do not walk, swim, or drive through high water. Just six inches of fast flowing water can knock you over and two feet swim a car.
⚠️If you are trapped on a flooded road with rapidly rising water, get out of the car quickly and move to a higher level. pic.twitter.com/CihoPiCK78
– American Red Cross of Tennessee (@RedCrossTN) March 28, 2021
In severely affected Rutherford County, the sheriff’s office said Sunday morning that it was responding to reports of water rescues and people driving on water-covered roads, and urged people not to remove any warning signs or tape.
Forty-nine streets are completely closed, 35 are partially closed, and 12 have reopened, according to an online dashboard updated by the county.
Nashville residents used social media to share photos and videos of flooded streets, submerged vehicles, and cleanups on Sunday.
Officials are making comparisons with the historic floods in the Nashville area, which killed at least 29 people and displaced thousands in May 2010.
“The rainfall we had yesterday and overnight made that period one of the wettest 24-hour periods in Nashville history,” National Weather Service meteorologist Sam Shamburger told the Tennessean. “It is the worst flood event we have seen since the flood in May 2010. The main difference, however, is that this event affects a much smaller area than the 2010 flood.”
The NWS announced early Sunday that Nashville’s two-day rainfall of 6.69 inches is the second largest in its history. It beats an earlier record set in September 1979, lagging behind the 13.57 inches recorded on May 1st and 2nd, 2010.
The Harpeth River is expected to rise to 34.8 feet on Sunday evening, the agency added, in what would be the third highest level in history. Aerial photos taken by the Franklin fire brigade around 11:30 a.m. local time show that the river is already overflowing.
These aerial photos were taken approx. 15 minutes. in front of our drone operator FF / P Daniel Donegan. The photos above are Bridge St. on 1st Ave. N. Photos below are Hillsboro Rd. On N. Margin St. pic.twitter.com/pe0GnxtTbc
– Franklin Fire Department, Franklin, TN (@FranklinFire) March 28, 2021
Scott Potter, the director of Metro Water Services, said at the briefing that the water facilities are safe and he is not concerned about the impact of rising river levels. He cited predicted spikes lower than May 2010 and improvements the plants have made since then.
The Mayor also noted that the lessons learned from the 2010 flood helped the city prepare for an “improved flood response” in the form of well-trained rapid water rescue teams and better real-time information sharing between subway departments.