Beginning Saturday, May 1, 2010, Nashville and surrounding counties in Tennessee received one-fourth of our yearly rainfall in about 48 hours. Since I now view everything through survivalist eyes, I’d like to share what I observed and the lessons that were reinforced and pass along a few tips to help you survive a flood.
Lesson: Good neighbors can help prevent loss of life during a disaster.
While our emergency responders were great, they couldn’t be everywhere. The greatest good was done by ordinary citizens helping each other, such as the ladies who made one hundred peanut butter sandwiches for hungry volunteers, first responders, and media. People checked on their neighbors and, in some cases, woke them up early Sunday morning to warn of rising water. When night came and it was difficult to see where water covered the roads, in many neighborhoods, including mine, residents set up roadblocks using garbage cans and sawhorses, then stood in the rain with flashlights to keep drivers from inadvertently going into the high water.
Since Nashville has many good fishing areas, boats of all kinds are common here and boat owners floated through neighborhoods looking for anyone who was stranded. During the worst of the flooding, people were being rescued by volunteers in canoes, jet skis, motorboats, and pontoons.
Pets were given every consideration; rescuers considered Fido and Fluffy members of the family. Some pets were removed in carriers or crates; others were on leashes or in the arms of their owners. The animals seemed remarkably calm as they sat in canoes being carried to safety. Sunday afternoon a number of horses were trapped by rising water. The owners were out of town, so neighbors went to the horses’ aid, leading them to the only dry yard in the subdivision and keeping them there until they could be removed safely.
Lesson: Things go much better if your city leaders recognize emergencies.
The mayor of LaVergne, a Nashville bedroom community, jumped into readiness mode immediately. By 8 p.m. Saturday night, he declared a disaster, opened shelters, and ordered school buses to help move people from flooding areas. Nashville leaders didn’t respond that quickly. .
Lesson: Always have a BOB or get-home bag in your car which will enable you to survive in place for several days.
The floodwaters covered several busy interstates and cars were unable to get through. Many people were stranded for twenty hours or more.
Lesson: The interstate isn’t the place to be in an emergency situation.
Cars trapped on the interstate had no way to turn around and seek an alternate route. I have no idea why emergency responders didn’t provide an escort so these people could turn around and get off at the closest exit.
Lesson: Local media can provide valuable information if they’re operational.
We received excellent information about what areas were impassable from our radio and TV. People telephoned in information and forwarded video to the TV stations. The station reporters who were in helicopters stayed in contact with emergency personnel on the ground, alerting them to any stranded people they observed. The reporters were very specific, detailing exactly what intersections and roads were impassable and what creeks were rising. When residents noticed a dangerous area, they alerted the station and the information was broadcast. People also called the stations with questions about road conditions; if the newscasters had no information on that particular place, an appeal was made to anyone in that area, and listeners phoned in the latest news.
Question: Am I the only person in Nashville with a BOB?
Many people were trapped in their homes; in my neighborhood there were houses that resembled Mediaeval castles surrounded by moats. While some people panicked, others simply dealt with it; one man described moving important papers, food, and his family to the second floor where they read and talked while the first floor flooded. Of all the evacuees I saw, only one had a small suitcase. Most said they left with only the clothes on their backs.
Lesson: Private assistance comes much more quickly than official assistance.
Churches, schools, community centers, and colleges turned themselves into instant shelters (and they accepted pets). Several churches which operate food pantries used their kitchens to feed evacuees and to provide a dry place to sleep. It took days for government assistance to begin.
Lesson: An emergency may occur when we’re away from home; always be ready.
Many of the refugees weren’t Nashvillians; they were people traveling on the interstate who couldn’t get out of the city.
Lesson: Take your BOB on vacation.
The Opryland Hotel flooded and guests had to be moved to another location. None of the evacuating guests I saw carried even a suitcase, yet they had considerable warning about the situation because of the steadily rising water in the hotel lobby.
Lesson: In a middle- to upper-class neighborhood, there is a high likelihood that trained people will be available to give assistance in some emergency situations.
Flooding was very heavy in Williamson County, a wealthy McMansion area next to Nashville. On Sunday a woman there went into labor and, since there was no way to get her to a hospital, a neighbor went door to door asking for medical personnel. The responders included a pediatrician, a surgeon, an obstetrician specializing in high risk pregnancies, and two nurses. The electricity was also out and word spread that the woman’s house was horribly hot, so another neighbor loaned a generator to power fans. The baby was safely delivered at home; mother and daughter are fine.
Lesson: Water storage is crucial.
The flood damaged one of the city’s water treatment plants, and we were asked to conserve water. In some areas, boiling was required.
Lesson: Some people are hopelessly stupid.
The unaccustomed water was a tempting sport; people rafted down ditches and swam in the YMCA parking lot despite warnings that the water was contaminated with chemicals and sewage. There were also dangerous currents which swept several people to their deaths.
Lesson: Know more than one way to get home.
Both interstates and side roads were impassable; getting anywhere involved a great deal of weaving around to avoid the danger spots. In addition to the water danger, there were also rock slides, debris in the road, and structural damage to many bridges.
Lesson: Evaluate your home for all possible natural disasters and take economic precautions.
Many of the flooded areas had never before experienced a flood; consequently, almost no one had flood insurance. If you live anywhere short of a desert, flood insurance is a good idea.
Lesson: There seemed to be very little crime during the height of the emergency.
I heard no reports of crime or looting during the flooding; of course, tugging a 42” flat screen TV through five feet of water would defeat the purpose and making a speedy getaway after a bank robbery wasn’t an option, either. There were looting reports a week after the flood.
Lesson: Buy a house on high ground.
In any area which receives rain, always consider the location of a house before buying. A house on a small hill or rise is preferable. Also, beware of cute little streams that, in good times, meander charmingly through the yard. Those streams can become monsters in a matter of hours.
When I evaluate our experience, I’m very pleased with the community spirit and concern for others that was exhibited during the disaster. Our media also performed superbly under difficult conditions. Of course, this was a limited disaster situation; a true TEOTWAWKI experience will be very different. For many reasons I decided long ago that I would not bug out to another location unless an emergency rendered my home uninhabitable (i.e., nuclear attack), and the flood confirmed my decision. I see great strength in middle-class suburban communities, and I believe in many adverse situations the residents will unite to form functioning support systems.
I encourage anyone who wants to see a flood in action to view the many videos of the Nashville flood currently posted on Youtube.
by guest author, Dr. Saundra Cooper Jinnette