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The Flood Everyone Forgot

Soggy Top, Tennessee.

6:15 PM, May 4, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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There's been a controversial immigration law passed, sometimes violent protests in its wake. There's an oil slick the size of a Northeastern state making its way into the marshlands and beaches of the Gulf Coast, potentially ruining miles of coastline and thousands of livelihoods for a long time to come. There was an unsuccessful bombing attempt in Times Square perpetrated by a man who may have trained at a bomb-making terrorist camp in Pakistan and is now in American custody.

There's also a disastrous flood in Middle Tennessee that has parts of the state under 10 feet of water and has killed 19 people thus far. (Edit: I should have noted the floods have killed 29 in a three-state area; 19 of them are in Tennessee.) It's just that nobody has noticed. Our national news bandwidth is somewhat occupied at the moment, so here's a primer on the floods.

Aerial photos show parts of downtown Nashville under water as the Cumberland River continued to rise throughout this morning. Mercifully, it looks to be finally receding, as much of the middle of the state tries to get power back on:

Downtown businesses and landmarks were shuttered by power outages caused by the flood, but one of the city’s two water treatment plants was narrowly spared and remained in service. Officials said they might not be able to get the power back on before Friday.

“We’re hoping by that point a lot of the water will be receded and we can get in and fix the problem,” Laurie Parker, a spokeswoman for Nashville Electric Service, said in an interview. The transformers, she said, were underground and had been completely submerged by the floodwaters, which inundated concert halls, honky-tonk bars and the city’s arena and even left water hip-pad deep on LP Field, the home of the N.F.L.’s Tennessee Titans.

One of Nashville's water treatment plants flooded and had to be shut down, and the other came within a foot of being contaminated, but was able to stay up and running. The Grand Ole Opry is under 10 feet of water on its main floor, and is moving performances to other parts of the city for the time being. As Interstate 24 flooded, almost covering cars completely, an entire school building floated down the highway and broke apart in the waters.

Weekend thunderstorms dropped more than a foot of rain over two days, causing flash flooding and property damage throughout this region of the state. Rescuers prayed today that as waters receded, they would not find more bodies under the water, but there will probably be more, especially in remote areas:

The flash flooding caught many here by surprise, and efforts to warn residents to not drive on flooded streets were hampered by power outages. As the water began to recede, bodies were recovered late Monday from homes, a yard and a wooded area outside a Nashville supermarket. By Tuesday, the flash floods were blamed in the deaths of 18 people in Tennessee alone, including 10 in Nashville.

Hundreds of people had been rescued by boat and canoe from their flooded homes over the past few days. Those rescue operations were winding down in Nashville on Tuesday, though emergency management officials were checking a report of a house floating in a northern neighborhood, trying to determine if anyone was in it.

It remained unclear how many — if any — people were missing in Tennessee. Authorities in southcentral Kentucky searched Tuesday for a kayaker who was last seen Monday afternoon in the swollen Green River.

"Those in houses that have been flooded and some of those more remote areas, do we suspect we will find more people? Probably so," Nashville Fire Chief Kim Lawson said. "We certainly hope that it's not a large number."

The Tennessean has the best pictures of the damage. Those who have lost their homes and cars are in shelters, if they're lucky, on the phone with insurance agents, and trying to learn how to rebuild. Those who still have their homes are digging out their communities' parks and football fields from the mud, and helping neighbors.

The Middle Tennessee Red Cross is taking donations here and via text if you text "REDCROSS" to 90999 (that will automatically charge $10).

Godspeed to rescuers as the water recedes.

Leave it to Music City to inspire a haunting, sad music video about its devastating floods. Thanks to the Internet, even when America's national news bandwidth is exhausted, someone's always out there documenting the news. As of this afternoon, #Nashvilleflood is trending on Twitter.

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