My Story: Lessons from the Nashville Flood

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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.

image by president raygun

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.

Final Conclusions

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

11 thoughts on “My Story: Lessons from the Nashville Flood”

  1. Nashville area here! I was actually at a Jimmy Buffett Concert on Saturday night. It was surreal getting the information about things were going under water during the breaks.

    I have to say, even though Nashville didn't declare on Saturday night, they responded faster than any city I've seen in disaster in recent history. I can't say how proud I am of being from this region and watching ordinary citizens take care of their friends and neighbors. It completely reaffirms my decision to be in this area.

    The point was made that this is a major fishing area and that many, many people had boats. It should also be said that this is at least an equally heavy hunting area, and that it's pretty much known almost everyone has guns and knows how to use them. This has to play a role in keeping order.

    Thanks for the great post.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      Lee, I just recognized your name as the photographer of that beautiful pool water photo. Thanks for being willing to share that photo! Also, thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment. I'm glad to hear you also saw good things happening in Nashville following the floods.

    1. Hi christine. "BOB" stands for "bug out bag". It refers to a bag or backpack that contains sufficient necessities to keep a person alive in an emergency situation. The idea is that should an emergency arise, you can grab your BOB and run, secure in the knowledge that you have what you need to survive. Most people plan their BOBs to ensure survival for 72 hours. BOBs range from the very simple to the very elaborate; you can buy one ready-made or create your own. As you create the BOB, remember what's necessary: water and food. Bottled water and portable water filters are often part of the plan; food may consist of high-calorie food bars, MREs, or dehydrated and freeze-dried package foods popular with hikers. If you're interested in putting a bag together, I suggest you explore BOBs that are for sale on the internet, then perhaps personalize and create your own.

    2. Bug Out Bag ~ Contains 3 day supply for emergency evacuation or if you're away from home when disaster strikes. Many contain: food, clothes, medicine, toiletries, etc. Water is usually stored separately and kept in the trunk or back of your vehicle.

      Here's one of my favorite lists from Lisa (Survival Mom)

    3. Bug Out Bag. Emergency evacuation kit. A backpack containing everything you need for survival, usually for 72 hrs. (3 days). Even if help is coming, you can't often expect it to arrive in less than three days. There are great guidelines for contents on various sites.

  2. I'd say to research ready-to-buy BOBs, then take Lisa's lists (72 hour kit and Car Emergency Kit) and combine them to make your own BOB. It's way cheaper and you get to put exactly what you want inside. I bought a large simple duffel bag at Target and that sucker is packed. It's in my car as a BOB / emergency car kit, along with a few gallons of water.

  3. I just got SteriPens from based on a recommendation from this site, I believe, to add to the two car BOBs we have. I have a decent size high quality backpack with a lot of stuff like magnesium lighters, ponchos, an actual wool blanket, silver emergency blankets, hand-crank flashlight, etc. I have a small side bag to go with it that has temperature sensitive items including basic medicine like aspirin, chemical light sticks, and food. That way I can take the small bag out of the car with me when it gets really hot in the summer and keep those things good for longer.

    1. TheSurvivalMom

      I think the SteriPen is a great invention! When they asked if they could advertise on my blog, I was thrilled. It sounds like you have a good plan for coping with hot weather. It's time for me to do something similar. The other day I pulled a completely dehydrated Slim Jim meat stick out of the 72 hour kit in my car. Apparently, they're not meant to be stored for 6-8 months! When the summer heat hits Phoenix, any time now, there's not much that can withstand that sort of heat. I'm going to have to be creative with some of my preps that have to be kept outside.

      1. Consider using a nice stainless coleman cooler in your trunk or back of your SUV to store your BOB ……. It keeps items temperature stable in summer and winter. Handles on the end let me tie down the cooler with a couple of the small cargo straps in my FJ80 landcruiser where the 3rd row set of seats were . Keeps the items from heat or cold damage as well it looks like a coleman cooler versus anything "valuable" in your SUV cargo area if ya carry it all the time. and if ya have to swim for it… floats !………;o)

        Stay Safe !!

  4. I just found this! Boy do I remember that flood, its gotta be the worst city flooding I've ever seen. I've seen our lake flood twice before we moved here though. This was way before I discovered prepping. I was up in Nashville for MTAC on Saturday, there was a hotel full of people whoe couldn't go home or get down the street to the hotels they were staying at. My dad left the house at a 11 to come up and take us to get lunch, he didn't make it to Nashville until almost 10 in the evening! They made me and my little brother leave the panels we were in (I was in a one on one convo with my favorite actor! T_T) to leave and get home before the roads flooded again. I'd met a few friends from school who'd been in my physics class last year while I was at the convention and knew they needed to get home too. My brother and I grabbed them and we packed as many teenagers as would fit in my moms SUV and headed home. We made it home somewhere between 12 and 1, about twice as long as usual, we stopped to eat because we were all starving. But yeah, a lot of other people (including friends still at the convention) were stranded through sunday afternoon and even monday and tuesday! Glad I left when I did.

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