Tennessee starts to dry out after deluge washes out commuter rail line, traps drivers

By Kristin M. Hall, AP
Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tenn. dries out after deluge washes through state

MT. JULIET, Tenn. — Tennessee started drying out Thursday after days of drenching rain caused flooding, stranded homeowners and drivers, washed out roads and forced a freight train off its tracks.

No deaths had been reported, but forecasters warned the inundation may not be over. More rain was expected to fall across the Southeast during the weekend from the same storm system, which also was prompting flood watches and pouring rain onto parts of Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia.

Most flood watches and warnings in Tennessee had expired by Thursday afternoon, including one for Nashville, while remaining in effect for some areas to the northeast. Even with possible flooding in the Cumberland River and other creeks in the state, it likely will not cause the same devastation wrought by heavy rains in early May.

Still, officials were making plans for possible evacuations and preparing sandbags for downtown Nashville and other riverfront areas that previously flooded.

“We feel as a city it’s important to err on the side of caution,” said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean during a press conference Thursday evening. “Flooding situations can change quickly.”

Just outside Cookeville in the Double Springs community, about 80 miles east of Nashville, Priscilla Toepper, 66, said she had to bring her four horses to a neighbor’s fenced yard up the hill from her house because the stables began flooding.

A neighbor across the street who was away on a business trip lost three cars to the flooding, and Toepper and other neighbors broke into his garage to rescue his dog and cat because the pet door was submerged. They tried to save more of his belongings, but they didn’t have enough time.

“We were fighting a losing battle,” she said. “It looked like a big roaring mess where those creeks came together. I was so amazed by the force of the water.”

In Mt. Juliet, just outside Nashville, shop owner Richard Dorer awoke Thursday and was watching the morning television news when he saw the strip mall where his Teach a Child store is located was flooded. The store sells educational books, games and CDs.

Dorer said the store was also swamped when historic flooding struck in early May.

“That was supposed to be a once in a thousand year flood and now it’s twice in a thousand years,” Dorer said. “We will be lucky to come back from this.”

Up to 6 inches had fallen in the area where Dorer’s store is located. Several roads were closed, people had to be rescued from cars and a commuter rail track between Mt. Juliet and Lebanon was damaged, but was repaired and operating Thursday afternoon.

Still, the rainfall was still far less than the heaviest hit places further east of Nashville, like Cookeville, which got 11 or more inches.

Some minor flooding was still expected as the rainwaters flowed downstream into Nashville into the Pennington Bend area near the Gaylord Opryland Resort — which was hit hard in May — as well as some industrial areas and low-lying farmland.

The Cumberland River was expected to reach just below flood stage as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worked to prevent flooding farther upstream from Nashville. The National Weather Service said the river would crest overnight at about 38.5 feet — about 14 feet lower than what was seen in May’s historic flooding. And forecaster Bobby Boyd said water levels should fall quickly.

Nonetheless, emergency officials increased police patrols and had water rescue teams ready for the river’s predicted crest.

The floods in May killed 22 people in Tennessee and caused more than $2 billion in damage in Nashville alone. Record two-day rains swelled the Cumberland River.

Meanwhile, in southeastern Kentucky, heavy rain closed roads and figured into at least one accident that left a woman in the hospital.

Kentucky State Police said a man who was trying to drive his car under an overhang at a Corbin supermarket so his 76-year-old wife could stay out of the rain accidentally pushed the accelerator and backed into the store, running over her Wednesday afternoon.

The worst of the damage was reported in Tennessee, however. The remnants of a tropical depression had interacted with a weak front over the state, creating all the rainfall. A day earlier in Putnam County in Middle Tennessee, a home had floated off its foundation and a train carrying sand derailed when the tracks washed away. The water there had receded Thursday, leaving toppled trees in its wake.

About an inch of rain could keep Middle Tennessee and possibly East Tennessee soggy on Saturday and Sunday, though no major problems were expected, said Boyd, the weather service forecaster.

“It doesn’t look like it will be anything like what we’ve experienced over the last couple of days,” he said.

Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Cookeville, Tenn., and Rose French, Lucas Johnson II and Randall Dickerson in Nashville contributed to this report.

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