NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Cumberland River having reached its crest was
little comfort amid fears that receding floodwaters could reveal more victims of
deadly storms that swamped much of middle Tennessee.
The death toll was at 29 across three states, but hope was slim that number
would stand Tuesday as recovery begins in earnest.
The flooding, which pushed the river's muddy waters into Nashville's historic
downtown, came amid severe storms that brought flash floods so swift many could
Residents and authorities know they'll find widespread property damage in
inundated areas, but dread even more devastating discoveries.
''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.''
Thousands of people fled rising water and hundreds were rescued, but bodies were
recovered Monday from homes, a yard, even a wooded area outside a Nashville
supermarket. By Monday night, the rapidly rising waters were blamed in the
deaths of 18 people in Tennessee alone, including 10 in Nashville.
The weekend storms also killed six people in Mississippi and four in Kentucky,
including one man whose truck ran off the road and into a flooded creek. One
person was killed by a tornado in western Tennessee.
In Nashville, the Cumberland also deluged some of the city's most important
revenue sources: the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center, whose 1,500
guests were whisked to a shelter; the adjacent Opry Mills Mall; even the Grand
Ole Opry House, considered by many to be the heart of country music.
''That's the hub of the whole deal down here,'' 82-year-old businessman John
Hobbs said of the entertainment complex. ''Without them nobody would be down
here. That's like the star of the whole family.
Floodwaters also edged into areas of downtown, damaging the Country Music Hall
of Fame, LP Field where the Tennessee Titans play and the Bridgestone Arena,
home to the NHL's Nashville Predators and one of the city's main concert venues.
Carly Horvat, 29, lives in a downtown condo and ventured out with a few friends
to look at damage Monday night.
''I have never heard the city so quiet,'' Horvat said. ''Usually, you hear
whooping and hollering from Broadway.''
Damage estimates range into the tens of millions of dollars. Gov. Phil Bredesen
declared 52 of Tennessee's 95 counties disaster areas after finishing an aerial
tour from Nashville to western Tennessee during which he saw flooding so
extensive that treetops looked like islands.
The severity of the storms caught everyone off guard. More than 13.5 inches of
rainfall were recorded Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather
Service, making for a new two-day record that doubled the previous mark.
Dramatic rescues continued into Monday as water crept into areas that had
remained safe during weekend downpours.
Authorities and volunteers in fishing boats, an amphibious tour bus and a canoe
scooped up about 500 trapped vacationers at the Wyndham Resort along the river
near Opryland. Rescuers had to steer through a maze of underwater hazards,
including submerged cars, some with tops barely visible above floodwaters the
color of milk chocolate.
Bill Crousser was riding his Jet Ski past a neighbor's house when he rescued a
man, his wife and their dog moments before flames from a fire in the garage
broke through the roof.
''We just got the hell out of there,'' Crousser said.
The water swelled most of the area's lakes, minor rivers, creeks, streams and
drainage systems far beyond capacity. It flowed with such force that bridges
were washed out and thousands of homes were damaged. Much of that water then
drained into the Cumberland, which snakes through Nashville.
The Cumberland topped out around 6 p.m. Monday at 51.9 feet, about 12 feet above
flood stage and the highest it's reached since 1937. It began to recede just in
time to spare the city's only remaining water treatment plant.
Still, about 50 Nashville schools were damaged and floodwaters submerged
hundreds of homes in the Bellevue suburb alone, including Lisa Blackmon's. She
escaped with her dog and her car but feared she lost everything else.
''I know God doesn't give us more than we can take,'' said Blackmon, 45, who
lost her job at a trucking company in December. ''But I'm at my breaking
Associated Press writers Travis Loller, Kristin M. Hall,
FARGO, N.D. — Predicting the weather has always been at least in part a
gambler’s game — a matter of odds and percentages.
But over the last week, as the Red River in North Dakota has surged to
potentially catastrophic flood levels, setting off waves of anxiety from here to
Washington, forecasters seem to have been betting mostly on the wrong horse.
The flood surge rose much faster than expected in Fargo, the state’s largest
city, then peaked sooner and at a lower level than forecast — to the city’s
great relief and gratitude. In the last two days — surprise again — it has gone
down more rapidly than foreseen.
But the uncertainty has taken a toll.
“It really stresses the city’s system,” said Donald P. Schwert, a professor of
geology at North Dakota State University in Fargo, who has been a consultant on
landslide and erosion issues to Cass County, which includes Fargo. “The city
builds up temporary dikes on a forecast, then a new forecast comes and the city
has to respond to that, and on it goes.”
Scientists say they have learned a tremendous amount about the Red River since
its last major flood in 1997, using sophisticated modeling systems developed in
the wake of disasters up and down the river that year.
But to the chagrin and frustration of emergency workers, one of the biggest
lessons from all the new data is that the Red River — obscure to many Americans,
but beloved in the world of river hydrology — has emerged as perhaps even more
maddeningly complex, and thus in some ways harder to predict, than before.
“It’s like anything else in life — the more you know, the more you know you
don’t know,” said Scott Dummer, the hydrologist-in-charge at the National
Weather Service’s North Central River Forecast Center.
Mr. Dummer (pronounced DUE-mer) said the Red River, though fairly modest
compared with some more famous rivers, was devilishly hard to predict, partly
because of its shallow channel. The Colorado River has been carving out the
Grand Canyon for millions of years. The Red, by contrast, dates back to perhaps
only a few thousand years before the Pyramids. That means it has not had that
long to cut deep channels that can contain water during floods.
On top of that, the river flows very slowly across a pancake-flat landscape.
Imagine raising an eight-foot-long sheet of plywood just enough to slip a single
sheet of paper under the raised end. The resulting minuscule tilt of the board
represents the average slope of the Red River’s bed.
What that means is that the river, when it goes awry during a flood, spills
every which way across the countryside. This makes predictions of flood levels
contingent on thousands of data points, not just depth gauges here and there.
In the Weather Service’s defense, Mr. Dummer said the long-term predictions of
this year’s flood — the first warnings went out in December — were right on the
money, and justified the expense and work involved in the new computer models,
which rely on 58 years of river data.
Other wrinkles of the river’s drainage basin, though, are just now being
explored, like the odd legacy of homesteading. The land grant system of the
1800’s divided much of the nation into square-mile sections of 640 acres — a
pattern still prevalent on the Great Plains, where many roads follow with
geometric, if not downright boring, exactitude the old ruler-straight division
Now comes the Red River question: How much water does each square hold? Nobody
knows the exact amount, said Aaron W. Buesing, a hydraulic engineer with the
United States Army Corps of Engineers in St. Paul, but the next round of
computer models aims to provide an answer.
Mr. Buesing said he thought that grid storage might explain why some flood surge
predictions were off. The river’s quick rise, accompanied by a cold snap, may
have trapped enough water in the grids to keep the worst predictions from
materializing, he said.
Then there’s Canada to worry about. Squashed by glaciers for thousands of years,
it has been slowly recovering from the compression. For the north-flowing Red
River, that means its downhill slope, already barely perceptible, is getting
even less pronounced with each passing year, adding to its complexity, and its
propensity to flood.
FARGO, N.D. — Along the banks of this city, the Red River surpassed its
highest level in history Friday morning, forcing the emergency evacuation of one
neighborhood before dawn and leading city leaders here, once cheerfully upbeat,
to sound far more dire.
“We do not want to give up yet,” Mayor Dennis Walaker of Fargo said late
Thursday night after receiving yet another piece of gruesome news. Forecasters
now believe the Red River will go right on rising, and by Saturday overtake the
record set here more than a century ago by two feet or even more, much higher
than anyone here had earlier believed possible.
“We want to go down swinging — if we go down,” the mayor said, as he urged his
city to summon the energy to build the dikes that protect it yet another foot
higher by Friday night.
“I’m going to be devastated if we lose,” said Mr. Walaker, who had, only a few
days ago, expressed optimism, even certainty, that Fargo, a city of 90,000 and
North Dakota’s most populous, would be fine.
By Friday morning, some hospitals here had transferred patients to other
facilities miles away, and nursing homes had sent residents to relatives’ homes
on high ground. Major roads here were closed, to allow trucks carrying more
loads of sandbags to reach levees as fast as possible. And after about 100
people, including some residents of a nursing home, in one Fargo neighborhood
and a large swath of neighboring Moorhead, Minn., were forced to evacuate
Thursday night, officials on Friday ordered residents from about 150 more Fargo
homes to leave just after 2 a.m. The authorities said they found a leak in a
levee near those homes, and were racing to repair it. Residents, meanwhile,
could be seen trudging out by foot, bearing belongings in bone-cold
temperatures, local news reports said.
While flooding conditions have threatened much of North Dakota and parts of
western Minnesota, and some rural communities are already under water, all eyes
on Friday were on this city and on Moorhead, a city of 34,700 just across the
Red River. More than a thousand members of the National Guard had been called in
to add more sand to the area’s already enormous dikes, but even weather
forecasters seemed at a loss to be sure what might come next.
“This is definitely ground zero right now,” said Patrick Slattery, a spokesman
for the National Weather Service. “Once you get here, into predictions above the
levels we have ever seen before, you’re taking about unbroken ground. Even we
don’t know for certain what’s going to happen.”
People here found themselves facing added challenges given the singular
dimensions of this flood. Once the river crests on Saturday, it is expected to
stay at those swelled, highest levels for several days. Dikes that hold for a
few hours may be in trouble in a matter of days, the authorities here say.
The temperature here, too — 10 degrees on Friday morning with a wind chill
reported at 4 degree below zero — tested the stamina of thousands of volunteers.
It also led some to worry about the condition of the piles sandbags. Would
sandbags slide and give way on frozen ground? Would frigid sandbags allow water
to flow through rather than holding it back?
In Fargo, a city where residents continued to offer applause at public meetings
for their political leaders even as the news grew worse and worse this week,
tempers were clearly tested by late Thursday. Kristy Fremstad, who owns rental
property in Fargo, pleaded with city officials to add sandbags to the dike near
“We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting,” she tearfully told city
commissioners at an emergency meeting, (also attended by Gov. John Hoeven,
Senator Byron L. Dorgan and Representative Earl Pomeroy). “I need some help.”
Schools and businesses were closed. And some people in between the city’s
primary dike system and a second set of newly created emergency dikes were
advised to evacuate. Volunteers, now days into their work, went right on filling
sandbags at the Fargodome all through the night.
Across the bulging river, in Moorhead, residents who had been advised to
evacuate found themselves on roads jammed with other cars, (and, in some cases,
still covered in snow). The congested streets led some here, including Mayor
Walaker, to worry about how a broader evacuation plan, if one were required,
would play out here.
Adding to the complications of such a concept, local officials acknowledged, was
the fact that no one could be sure where the dikes might break or what roads —
given rising waters and falling snow — might be passable.
In some rural areas to the south of Fargo and elsewhere, water had already
filled homes. White caps, one law enforcement officer said, could be seen around
what had once been farm fields. Rescues were made with boats and helicopters,
even as other residents, surrounded on all sides by water, insisted on staying
Around Bismarck, the state capital, flooded neighborhoods sat empty as
demolition crews battled dangerous ice jams on the Missouri with explosives.
Water levels had dropped some there, offering hope.
“Our biggest concern is an ice jam in the river just 10 miles north of Bismarck,
which we’re hoping does not dislodge,” said Bill Wocken, that city’s
administrator. “An ice jam is kind of like my teenage daughter. Sometimes there
is just no way to predict what they’ll do next.”
In Grand Forks, which was devastated by flooding in 1997, two of the three
bridges leading in and out of town were already closed. But city officials
seemed hopeful that a $409 million Army Corps of Engineers flood protection
project, completed two years ago, would save the city from the Red River this
“We remain cautious, vigilant and watchful,” said Kevin Dean, a city spokesman.
Karen Ann Culotta contributed reporting from Chicago.
The New York Times
By MONICA DAVEY
and ANAHAD O’CONNOR
— The Mississippi River washed over two levees in western Illinois early
Wednesday, forcing people out of their homes, destroying countless acres of
crops, and bringing the number of levees that have given way to the river this
week to nearly 20.
The latest breaks occurred overnight near the small town of Meyer on the western
border of Illinois and Missouri, deluging roads and farmland and prompting the
authorities to force about 50 people to leave their homes. The river was
expected to crest early this afternoon farther downstream in Quincy, Ill., a
town of about 40,000 people perched on the banks of the Mississippi.
The rising waters further strained some of the country’s most fertile farmland,
pushing corn prices near record highs. According to the United States Department
of Agriculture, the flooding thus far has left about 12 percent of Midwestern
crops in poor to very poor condition, lifting corn prices to $8 a bushel and
soybeans to $15.96 a bushel. Those prices were expected to climb as the flooding
Here in Canton, a town of 2,500 in eastern Missouri, people were bracing for the
Mississippi to crest by Thursday morning.
Workers on four-wheel ATVs zipped up and down the town’s earthen levee carting
an extra layer of protection: 1.3 million sandbags to sit atop a two foot wall
that they have built — in less than a week — atop the levee. Looking out from
the levee on Wednesday, the Mississippi was only feet away from the top.
Farmland, a road, and the welcome sign for Canton were under about 12 feet of
Still, officials here say they hope the levee will protect the town. Every time
a sign of water slipped through the top — or a puddle appeared in sandbags, more
ATVs raced to the spot to shore it up. “We think this is going to hold,” said
Richard Dodd, an alderman here, as he drew on his experience in 1993 and
directed traffic and ordered more sand bags in different spots. “We were green
in ’93, but now we know,” he said, referring to the last enormous flood here, a
year when the level crept only a few inches higher than is expected by morning.
As the overflowing waters of tributaries began to recede in Iowa and Wisconsin
this week, they had nowhere to go but here, into the legendary Mississippi, a
river that was growing mightier by the hour. On Wednesday, in parts of Iowa,
Illinois and Missouri, all eyes were on this river, which was expected to reach
record levels in some areas before cresting later this week.
Law enforcement officials and residents were focused on the patchwork of levees
that protect these shores, and altogether officials were closely monitoring at
least 27 levees for the possibility the waters might flow over them.
In Clarksville, another quaint town not far away, the residents have been
struggling these past few days to keep the river at bay. Already, the new
riverfront park is out of sight, under water. Disappearing slowly is the antique
mall, the bank, the church, the American Legion hall, the oldest house in town.
And the Mississippi River is only getting started.
“You patch one thing and something else falls apart,” Jo Anne Smiley, the mayor
of this town of 490, said on Tuesday as a giant water pump churned outside her
City Hall door and word of new woes — a sewerage system failure — arrived.
“We’ve been through what the Mississippi can do. But I don’t know this time. The
fear is if it all goes under.”
On Tuesday, at least four breaks were reported among scores of levees, officials
said, three of them in Missouri north of St. Louis. Near Gulfport, Ill., a levee
gave way before dawn, allowing the river to surge through a hole that soon grew
to 300 feet wide.
That town and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded, and the Great River
Bridge, connecting Illinois to Burlington, Iowa, had to be closed, the Henderson
County Sheriff’s office said. Four hundred people were evacuated, several by
helicopter and boat. By evening, several other levees were showing signs of
vulnerability known as sand boils, ant-hill-like formations produced by extreme
Elsewhere, some highways and bridges along the Mississippi were closed.
Evacuations were suggested, shelters were opened, and free tetanus shots were
being dispensed. National Guard members, volunteers and inmates feverishly
sandbagged homes, levees and, in towns like Clarksville, nearly everything else
that was not already under water.
Water teased at the ankles of Pam Myers, 45, and her three sons as they rushed
on Tuesday to surround their house in Meyer with the mound of sand town
officials had dumped in her yard. Ms. Myers pointed grimly at the line on her
house — hip high — where officials had told her water would probably reach, but
said she had no plans to go anywhere, even when the waters are expected to crest
here near the end of the week.
“I’ll stay and fight her,” she said of the Mississippi. “I’ve got river in my
Overflowing rivers in Iowa and other Midwest U.S. states forced evacuations and
disrupted the region's economy on Friday with fears of worse to come from
fragile levees and more rain.
Following are some major floods to hit the United States:
* In June 2006, floods killed at least 16 people in the eastern United States.
Authorities ordered hundreds of thousands of people evacuated in New Jersey, New
York, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Damage estimates exceeded $1 billion.
* In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and devastated the Gulf
Coast, causing more than 1,800 deaths. The $125 billion in damage made it the
most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
* In 1998, flooding and deadly tornadoes swept through central, southern and
eastern Texas, causing 31 deaths and prompting the evacuation of 14,000 people.
Flooding was reported in 60 counties -- about one-fourth of the state. Damage
estimates exceeded $1 billion.
* In 1993, floods ravaged nine Midwestern states, killing 48 people and leaving
nearly 70,000 people homeless. The cost of flood damage was estimated at $21
billion. The Mississippi River on August 1 crested in St. Louis at a record 49.4
* In 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes dumped 8 inches to 16 inches of rain over a
large portion of upstate New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, with some
locations receiving nearly 20 inches of rain in three days. The storm killed 122
people and caused over $3 billion in damage.
* In 1969, Hurricane Camille's torrential rains struck mountainous west and
central Virginia. Sixty-seven people were reported dead and 106 missing after
floods virtually washed out towns in the mountains.
* In 1927, levees built to contain the Mississippi River broke, and a wall of
water pushed its way across Midwestern farmlands. The flood covered 27,000
square miles (69,920.000 sq km), an area about the size of Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. The flood killed about 1,000
people and displaced some 700,000 more. At a time when the entire federal budget
was barely $3 billion, it caused an estimated $1 billion in damage.
* In 1889, more than 2,200 people died in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when the South
Fork dam broke after days of heavy rain. The town was destroyed within minutes
by a wall of water that rushed down a narrow valley.