Nashville was the final city in my travels this spring. Our arrival last Friday morning was met with a beautiful blue sky and warm temperatures. But the forecast warned of heavy rains through the weekend. When I woke up early Saturday morning, the downpour had already begun and it rained hard and steady through the day and night.
The job was located at the Roy Acuff Theater, one of several huge buildings on the Opryland complex. As we prepared to launch our second full day, Sunday, a couple of us noticed a trickle of a snake heading down the carpeting toward the stage. Puzzled, we traced the water upward and found many more approaching trickles. Our search ended at the four large emergency exit doors to the parking lot. By that time, water was gushing from beneath them.
The next several hours were spent ensuring the safety of all gathered, and scrambling to secure the many layers of electronic equipment in harm’s way. There was considerable risk given that electricity was ‘live’ at the time, and we were traipsing around on wet (and ultimately inundated) carpeting.
The rains created lakes and rivers where there had been none before. The flooding isolated whole communities, and destroyed homes and businesses. Much of this water eventually found its way to the Cumberland River which winds through downtown Nashville and, among other places, passes the Grand Ole Opry. The Cumberland exceeded its banks and devastated this great city and its people. Ten were killed in the city alone; twice that number were killed along the track of the storm from Mississippi to Kentucky.
I’ll leave it to the news industry to give a full accounting of the destruction. But I can help a little with some perspective on the flooding, itself. This is a helicopter shot taken yesterday by Mark Humphrey of the Associated Press.
The large building along the top of the picture is Opry Mills, a shopping mall. On the lower right is a complex of buildings comprising the famed Grand Ole Opry. To its left is the 1800-seat Roy Acuff Theatre. Look at the Acuff: the tall, rectangle-shaped part of the building houses the stage, and the arched part of the building houses the seating area. All that you can see in this picture is surrounded by water flowing from the now-swollen Cumberland River. But not just surrounded…
Look more closely outside the theater part of the Acuff. There you will see a white rectangular shape. That’s a tent we rented as a changing area for the performers. It is 50 feet square and 10 feet high. All you can see is it’s roof ! By extrapolation, you can figure that the theater, mall and Opry itself all have ten feet of water inside. News reports confirm this to be true.
1,500 guests were evacuated from the Opryland Hotel (to the right of the Opry), some of them are our performers and families who were forced to leave many possessions behind. Mid-Sunday morning, all but essential Opry staff were recalled to the Archives building to rescue the many precious items stored there. Big name country music acts have been rescheduled and relocated to other venues.
The Cumberland is only beginning to recede today, and a full assessment of the damage is yet to come. Authorities are already saying that losses will be in the billions of dollars.
I’ve spent only a brief, soggy weekend in Nashville and can’t profess to knowing its people well at all. But I’ve experienced something important with them and in this lies a sort-of kinship. I hope the best for them all and look forward to the day when I can revisit the city and its people, healed and whole again.