Case Study: Nashville Flood

The Cumberland River is a major waterway of the South, running through Kentucky and Tennessee. It has been dammed twice to prevent flooding, forming the Cordell Hull Lake and Old Hickory Lake. The Cumberland River divides Nashville, Tennessee and travels upward and passes through Clarksville, Tennessee. In May 2010, rainfall exceeded 17 inches in Nashville, the highest amount in over 140 years of recorded history; in other areas it was greater than 19 inches. The Cumberland River crested ay 52 feet, which hasn’t been seen since 1937, when measures for flood control were taken into account. The rainfall lasted two days, starting on the night of the 1st and slowing down the night of the 2nd. Over 30% of Tennessee was designated a major disaster area. Almost all schools in the area were shut down for a week or more, with several schools having to end the year early due to all the damage. Many roads were damaged by water erosion and couldn’t be traveled on for weeks. Interstate 40 West, which is located near Opry Mills and the airport, had so much damage that it took months before it was back to normal. Local tourist attractions and historical buildings such as the Grand Ole Opry House, Opry Mills Outlet Mall, Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, Bridgestone Arena (home to the Nashville Predators and many concerts and conventions), and LP Field (home of the Tennessee Titans), were affected by several feet of water.

panorama view of Nashville skyline during floodPanorama view of downtown (Wordpress)

city street of Nashville flooded Aerial View of Broadway and 2nd Ave. The building on the left is Joe’s Crab Shack (Wordpress)

Aerial view of Nashville skyline with river in floodAreal views of Downtown Nashville (Eviesays)

Nashville Stadium in flood LP field (Wordpress)

Interior view of flooded Nashville stadiumInside the stadium (USA Today)

Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center

Opryland Hotel is a large and beautiful hotel in Nashville. Inside the hotel, there are many restaurants, convention centers, waterfalls, and cascades. It is the 29th largest hotel in the world and the biggest non-casino hotel in the US. The night of the flood, I, as well as many others, were attending prom inside the hotel. The flooding of the hotel didn’t happen until after the event, but many people who were staying at the hotel had to evacuate in the middle of the night. Beside the hotel is the famous Grande Ole Opry House and Opry Mills mall. The mall included over 100 stores, 30 restaurants, a Dave and Buster’s and a large Imax theater. One of the restaurants was The Aquarium. The flood released hundreds of salt water species into the flood waters, including sharks, stingrays, and many exotic fish.

flooded interstate near OprylandFlooded interstate beside the hotel (CNN)

flooded interstate near Opryland HotelThe Exit for the mall and the interstate to the airport (WKRN)

flooded interior Opryland Hotel

flooded interior Opryland Hotel

flooded interior view of Opryland Hotel

Views from inside the hotel (Huffington Post, Roughstock)

Aerial view of flooded Opryland HotelAerial view of Opryland Hotel (WKRN)

flooded interior Grand Ole OpryInside the Grand Ole Opry House (Roughstock)

Damage Reports

The following came from the NOAA's Assessment Report on the Nashville Flood:

“Flooding of the Cumberland River, including its tributaries and creeks, caused most of the damage, estimated at more than $2 billion. At least 11,000 structures were damaged. Below are estimated damages/impacts to some of the most significant structures:

  • Metropolitan Transit Authority's Administration building:  $3.1 million
  • BridgestoneArena: $3million
  • LP Field: $2.3 million
  • Schermerhorn Symphony Center: $2.5 million
  • Water treatment plant: $40 million
  • Opryland Resort and Convention Center: $220 million
  • Gaylord Entertainment: 1,700 workers temporarily laid off
  • Opry Mills Mall: 7 feet of water inundated 1.2 million square feet."

Other Damages

The damage done to many commercial and historical places was bad enough, however the effect of the flood is seen more through the homeowners and families around Nashville. Many of the people who were affected had zero flood insurance. Nashville isn’t known to have floods and most of the areas that flooded weren’t in a flood plain. Houses got destroyed, cars got swept away, and many people were left with nothing. Rescue boats had to come and rescue people out of houses that were miles away from the river.

exterior flooded school with boat in foregroundDonaldson Christian Academy (WKRN)

Witness Statement from DCA Student Will Henry

“ I can’t remember how long the rain had been falling before the thought of ’Our school is going to flood’ came across everyone’s mind. It had been raining pretty hard for a couple of days and you could see the rain approaching the steps of the school looking across the campus. I also don’t recall if it was the weekend, or if they had let us out of school to go home. I do remember that my family got in the car and drove to campus. The drive from our house to DCA is about 15 minutes on a normal day; it took 2 hrs that day. The school officials had emailed families asking for help to move materials from the first floor to the second floor. So that’s what we did the day the school flooded. I can remember cleaning out locker rooms, moving books upstairs, cleaning out trophy cases, basically anything we could move upstairs to save we did. The whole moving process was a race against time, we could see the water rising towards the school almost second by second. We all worked until the water reached the front doors and then everyone evacuated. The whole day just felt dark, like it was going to rain forever. I don’t think anyone saw the sun for 4 days. The schools damage was countless. I remember when the rain stopped people gathered as close as they could to look at the school. I even canoed through the campus. The water was so high that we could canoe right through the center of the field goal posts on the football field.

After all the waters receded everything looked brown from the mud of the water. All of the fields, a car left in the parking lot, and the walls of the school where brown. It was crazy. The basketball gym’s floor had buckled and it looked like a wavy ocean. Everything was scattered throughout halls where the water had picked up objects and moved them as they receded. Basically the whole first floor looked like somebody had raided the place looking for something.

We had portable classrooms in the back of campus that were torn down because they couldn’t be saved. My best friends dad actually scrapped some parts of the portables and we helped him with that.

All in all the school’s whole first level looked like it was a scrapyard.

I believe we had about a month left of school after the flood. We had one whole week off before a local church; Two Rivers Baptist (I think has recently changed their title) welcomed us with open arms and gave us all of their classrooms to use during the week. It was weird trying to go to class and learn something after a crazy event like the flood and actually pay attention. I think the teachers had a hard time adjusting too, and their schedules were thrown off just like ours. Needless to say, the remainder of that year we didn’t do much classroom learning. We did have Finals but nothing difficult. A lot of the materials teachers needed were ruined in the flood. Graduation went on as scheduled. I don’t know what we would have done if the flood happened sooner in the year, we were sort of lucky it happened so close to the end of school.

The whole summer was crazy before the next year of school. It really was a miracle how the community got together to get the school up and running again within just a few months. I remember going to school often to help clean up. It truly was awesome to see the amount of support our school got from the community. That summer football workouts were held at a local gym. The owners of the gym let us use the facilities no charge, the only bad part was we had to be there by 530 every morning. This was our coach’s choice so we didn’t get in the way of to many members there.

It was like that all summer and the school really got back up and going relatively fast. We got brand new gym floors, new painted walls, and new floor tiles. Basically the whole first story was renovated and it looks awesome. The community helped, and there were donations all summer long to our school. It was an amazing thing to see, it really brought everyone together.”

-Will Henry, Class of 2010

aerial view roof tops in flooded area near NashvilleNashville Subdivision after flood (BrandomScottThomas)

Witness Statement from Jinn Malabanan

“On the day of the flood in May of 2010, I was going about my day as normal. It's typical for the weather to be crazy, or bipolar as many people call it. I didn't think anything of the weather so I wasn't paying attention to any weather forecasts. A few hours later, my social media alerted me of the severity of the rain. I finally looked out and saw the water level- the cars were partially submerged and the base of our basketball goal was beneath the water. That was when we realized it was more than just "bipolar weather. " We live in a neighborhood right on the edge of a river, so it was only bad in parts of our neighborhood. We couldn't leave because of the flood, so we just prayed that the water wouldn't enter the home. The safety boats arrived the next morning to get us out of the neighborhood. Our dogs had to stay behind, so we put them on the 2nd floor of the house and left food, water, and dog pads. The next two days were spent at relatives homes. We were all glued to the news stations and couldn't believe the damage caused by the rain. We were worried about our home, too. Were the dogs okay? Would our vehicles be drivable? Did the water get into the house? Two days passed and we were able to return. We were lucky. Everything was okay. The worst thing for us was water inside our cars, but we considered that a blessing considering people all around us had lost so much more. The flood had an affect on us. We needed to be prepared and have a plan. We also needed to take the "bipolar weather" seriously and be alert of warnings in the area.”

-Jinn Malabanan

Callie Lynn

Last Updated: January 05, 2017