Overwhelming: A snapshot of the devastation caused by the Nashville Flood of 2010

16 May

Debris line the streets of a Bellevue neighborhood during the flood recovery process. May 8, 2010

I took this camera-phone photo from the passenger seat of a Honda CR-V as three friends and I were leaving a flood-damaged Bellevue neighborhood late Saturday afternoon, one week after the historic flooding in Middle Tennessee. We had spent the past several hours doing whatever we could to help people we didn’t even know clean up what was left of their homes after the waters had subsided. By the time we had arrived, much of the dirty work had already been done. But we cleaned and sorted and tore down what we could of what was left.

By the end of the day, most of the homes had been completely cleared of possessions.  These had been painstakingly (and I’m sure, tearfully) sorted into separate piles: salvageable items and trash. Family photos, children’s drawings, letters, and high school yearbooks were scattered across backyards to dry out and, in hopes, saved. Books, furniture, appliances, and garbage bags filled with unsalvageable items were piled chest-high out front to be picked up with the trash. Most of the homes had even been stripped down to the frame – carpet, flooring, and drywall removed and added to the piles of debris.

When I looked down the street at an entire row of houses with front lawns piled high with debris, one word came to mind – overwhelming.

From the first day the rain began, I spent hours upon hours poring over photos and video footage of the flooding. I saw photos of these same houses filled with water over my head. I saw the video of the classroom floating down I-24 and the live coverage of the Cumberland cresting and flooding downtown Nashville. I saw the photos of Opry Mills and Opryland and even the Opry stage. These images were all shocking and saddening.

But they were just that to me: shocking images. Seeing photos of the rising water, however, did not compare to seeing the actual damage caused by the water. I was unable to wrap my mind around the depth of the devastation until I saw, firsthand, homes stripped to the bone.  Construction paper drawings that once proudly covered refrigerator doors strewn across lawns. A woman packing up what was left of her belongings, loading them into a car, and pulling out of her driveway with tears in her eyes – tears she had been holding back because until then, there was no time for tears, only tough decisions and hard work. Soggy, mud-covered books being tossed into black heavy-duty trash bags. Entire rows of homes practically hidden by mounds and mounds of curbside debris.


But the destruction wasn’t the only thing I found overwhelming that day. In the photo above, if you look past the ruined furniture and the drywall and the trash, you’ll see something else lining the curb. Cars. Cars filled with friends and neighbors, even  strangers. People willing to do the dirty work, the hard labor, the heavy lifting helping people sort through the mud and the debris so they can begin to put their lives back together.

And that made the damage seem a little less overwhelming, a little less devastating, and a little less hopeless. Because in the end, the most reassurance comes in knowing you’re not in it alone.


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