The Big Flood in Three Acts -- Act III
Written by
Julie Jeffs
May 2010
Written by
Julie Jeffs
May 2010
Act III Monday the 3rd of May. The sun is shining it looks like a gorgeous day. Late last night my housemate arrived at my daughter’s apartment building with my dog. She had snuck into the neighborhood last night, and had to swim in the rising floodwaters to get to the house and rescue the dogs. I was thrilled to have Bodhi with me but in reality it was a stupid thing to do, extremely dangerous and lacking common sense, she and the dogs could have been killed. But, her dogs are like her children and she could not bear the idea of them being left there alone. I get that but still… My daughter and I returned to the neighborhood to see what it looked like. We had to park near where I had climbed aboard the evacuation bus, and walk back in. The water had continued to rise throughout the night. It is running swiftly through the entire neighborhood, like a river. The street is blocked off, and so we stand in the yard of an elderly woman that lives around the corner from our street. The police are talking to the woman as she sits on her porch. The only thing I hear her say is “I’m not going anywhere”. Other police officers are there and still others arrive on boats having rescued more people who stayed the night before. We strain to try to see at least the back of the house. From where we are we can see the water is now about half way up the 6-foot fence in the back yard. We still have no real idea of what the condition of the house is.

Throughout the day, we continue to hear that the worst is still yet to come. They are planning to do releases of water from the lakes due to pressure on the dams, to avoid a dam failure, which would be catastrophic. The releases would be made into the Cumberland, which would only would mean the water would continue to rise. We go back again Monday afternoon to check again and we are told that they have already released water from the dams. No one is sure when the water in the neighborhood will begin to recede and we might get back in. For this neighborhood, it is catastrophic. The neighborhood was not in the flood plain and so homeowners were either denied the opportunity to buy flood insurance or told they didn’t need it, as the area had not flooded in the last 100 years. Moreover, our neighborhood is not the worst hit in the Nashville area. In some areas two story homes were flooded up to the roof eaves. Everything those people owned was gone. For some perspective, the average annual rainfall for the Nashville area is 48+ inches. The wettest month of the year on average is May where the average rainfall for the month is 5 inches. In the first two days of the month, we got between 13 and 16 inches of rain. I will compare that to Sacramento, California, which is the area I moved to Tennessee from. There the average rainfall for the year is approximately 20 inches with the wettest month being January with an average rainfall of slightly over four inches. Tuesday May 4th. My daughter and I went back and checked again, still the water was too high and moving too quickly to allow residents back in. The smell is getting overwhelming. Hearing reports that anyone who has been in the floodwater should go get a tetanus shot if they hadn’t had one recently. Tuesday afternoon I went back again. This time I got to talk to the elderly woman whose property many of us were gathering on to try and get a glimpse of our homes.

This woman was a true gem. The nicest lady in the world. So concerned about the girl she saw who Sunday night had gone back in to get her dogs. I told the woman that was my housemate and she was so relieved to know she was alright, she had been so worried for her. She was truly concerned for everyone who had been displaced. I mentioned to her that I heard her tell the police she wasn’t leaving. She laughed and said her daughter in-law had arrived and the police, not knowing she was related, said to her, don’t even try to talk the old lady into leaving, she’s not going anywhere. The water had risen to where it was now beginning to crest the woman’s driveway. I spoke to another young woman who was asking about my house, about my belongings and about being evacuated. I must be losing my touch or at least my cop spidey-sense. After talking to her for a few minutes, I realized she was a reporter and her cameraman suddenly appeared, popping up behind me. When the reporter was done talking to me she said to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so calm after going through something like this.” I took that as a good sign; maybe I was far too boring to put on TV. Well, no such luck, I was on the evening news. As I told my housemate, I didn’t say anything too stupid but it wasn’t the first time I had felt like I made a fool of myself on TV. And no, if you are wondering, I will not be posting that video here. Wednesday the 5th we were finally allowed back in. We still had to walk through water almost knee high to get onto our street but the yards were no longer flooded. The weather now for three days has been beautiful, temperatures near 80 degrees. Everyone in the area was in need of sun and warmth, but homes that have been flooded and then have sat closed up for several days in heat really take on a terrible smell. All we could really do was look around and try to assess the damage. I’m not sure; I think we had somewhere between 12 and 18 inches of water in the house, but it looked like it may have settled at around 8 inches before receding. Amazingly it appears we never did lose power as by the time we got back in on Wednesday the power was still on, the refrigerator still cold and clocks still working. Don’t ask me how or why the power company didn’t shut off power at least until the water receded. The carpets were still soaked and there was a very thin coating of mud on everything that had been on or near the floor. Nothing much we could do right then. Thursday, Friday and Saturday we began the process of cleaning up and salvaging what we could. The city allowed us to just throw everything we were disposing of out onto our front walkways and lawns and they would have a company come around and pick it up. Each day the area looked more and more like a war zone with every house having a growing pile of carpeting, furniture, sheetrock, molding and various appliances and other trash.

We began by ripping out the carpeting and padding throughout the house. Then we started taking out all the sheetrock – from the floor up four feet. What was left by Monday evening was a shell with studs showing at the bottom of existing walls and concrete floors.

My housemate has already found a new apartment to rent. I am still staying with my daughter and her boyfriend until we make other arrangements. I feel so very fortunate that I get along so well with them both and they have both been so gracious in letting me stay, with my dog. My daughter and her friend owned the house. When my daughter moved out in July of 2009 neither she nor her friend could afford the house payment alone and as we all know, the housing market was in the toilet so they could not sell. I decided to move in to help them out and let them keep the house. Of course, they were among the thousands of homeowners who did not have flood insurance. They have applied for federal aid through FEMA but still don’t know what if anything they may qualify for. It is very likely that they will be unable to do anything other than let the bank foreclose. My housemate, my daughter’s friend, has already decided to move on; she has no interest in trying to fix the house. Neither of them could afford, even with a zero or low interest loan, to make a house payment and a loan payment for repairs while also renting somewhere to live – all on a gamble that the value of the house may someday return to allow them to sell for what they owe. I am still so grateful that neither I nor my housemate nor our pets were injured. Many others in the Nashville area were not so lucky. It is so sad to see the dreams of my daughter be dashed but we will survive and we will recover, it just may take a little time.

Photo Credits: All photos by Caitlin Jeffs at Caits Images We Are Nashville Flood Relief Poster by Ty Mattson at Mattson Creative Note: Ty Mattson has offered to let anyone use this artwork for T-Shirts or other fundraising efforts as long as 100% of the proceeds go to the charity orgnizations involved with Flood Relief in Nashville. An amazing thing for any artist to do. Check out the link to his blog.

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