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Torrential rains bring flooding

Responders, already stretched by earlier storms, redouble efforts in hard-hit TN, other southern states

BY JOHN PAPE | NASHVILLE | August 21, 2010

Days of torrential rain have brought flooding across much of the southeastern U.S., washing out a commuter rail line, derailing a freight train, trapping drivers in flooded vehicles and sweeping at least one home off its foundation.

Much of the flooding has been centered in Tennessee, including parts of the state devastated record flooding in May.

Additional flooding was also reported in Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.

Rains began late Tuesday when remnants of Tropical Depression 5 came into contact with a weak front over the region. The National Weather Service is forecasting rain to continue through the end of the week.

Although the latest flooding did not cause significant new damage in Nashville, it is coming on the heels of May’s record flooding where recovery efforts are expected to continue for many months.

The May floods killed 22 people and caused more than $2 billion in damage in Nashville alone. Davidson County Emergency Management spokesperson Amanda Sluss said the current flooding is not expected to be as severe.

“There has been some reported flooding in the county, but it appears areas north of Nashville have seen the most serious flooding and damage,” Sluss said. “Although the (Cumberland) river is expected to reach flood stage, we don’t believe we will see anything close to what we experienced in May.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used a series of dams to help manage floodwaters on the Cumberland River.

Corps of Engineers spokesman Fred Tucker said discharges had been increased at the Cordell Hull, Old Hickory and Cheatham dams to provide relief from floodwaters entering the reservoirs.

“The rain is still falling so we are closely monitoring the lake levels. We will continue to coordinate with our federal, state and local partners to minimize flood damage to the extent possible,” Tucker said.

Putnam County, located in central Tennessee, appears to have shouldered the brunt of the damage so far. A house was washed off its foundation by floodwaters and a train carrying sand derailed after the track bed was washed out. No injuries were reported.

Putnam County Road Superintendent Billy Joe Lamb said a number of roads had also been washed out and county officials are concerned some secondary bridges may have sustained foundation damage.

“At this point, we’re still dealing with flooded roads and bridges, so we don’t know exactly how bad it is, but we already know we’ve got some major damage to roads and we suspect we will have some bridge damage as well,” Lamb said. “Our crews are really going to have their work cut out for them. Until then, we’re doing what we can and trying to get the word out that people shouldn’t try and drive on any of the damaged roads or onto any flooded road.”

Algood resident Buddy Wyatt said the rain “came down in buckets,” but he was still surprised by how quickly the water rose.

“It seemed like a heavy rain the kind that really makes you nervous after what happened in May but we really didn’t expect to see this much water this quick. We really don’t need any more right now,” he said. “They had to rescue a couple of folks out of flooded cars over at Mt. Juliet, but everybody got out safe.”

Floodwaters also washed out a light rail line between the communities of Lebanon and Mt. Juliet, just east of Nashville. The Regional Transportation Authority, which operates the commuter rail line, is using buses to transport passengers until repairs can be made.

Some areas north and east of Nashville recorded more than a foot of rainfall. Putnam County seat Cookeville recorded 11.43 inches; Carthage, north of Nashville, received 11.29 inches and Westmoreland, near the Kentucky border, tallied 15.96 inches.

Other parts of middle Tennessee got 4 to 8 inches of rainfall. The Nashville metro area recorded 5 to 7 inches.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Emergency Operations Center in Nashville was partially activated to deal with the ongoing flooding and to conduct preliminary damage assessments in the affected counties. A state of emergency was declared for 7 counties, including Jackson, Overton, Putnam, Smith, Macon, Wilson and Sumner. No initial estimate on damage was immediately available.

Relief agencies have mobilized throughout the much of central Tennessee to assist those affected by the flooding.

The Rev. Tom Hazelwood, assistant general secretary for the United Methodist Committee on Relief, said the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church is responding to help those in need. He also said the second round of flooding in the state within three months has left the church’s resources “very thin.”

“It was going to be hard to have funding before; it will just be harder now,” Hazelwood said.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has also mobilized to provide emergency assistance with such essentials as food, clothing and shelter.

In addition, the American Red Cross opened a shelter at the Hermitage Church of Christ in Hermitage.

The same storm system that hit Tennessee also caused heavy rain in southeastern Kentucky, where state troopers closed a portion of a state highway over fears runoff had weakened a hillside to the point where a mudslide could occur.

In addition, the storm system dropped more than six inches of rain on northwest Alabama, forcing evacuations and causing widespread flooding.

More than 6 inches of rain was recorded at the Scottsboro airport before the rain gauge overflowed. Jackson County Assistant Emergency Management Director Mike Ashburn estimated the community probably got as much as eight inches.

Ashburn also said a dozen homes in low-lying parts of Scottsboro had to be evacuated, and some homes and businesses had as much as four feet of water inside. Local authorities had to temporarily block off a number of flooded streets.

“It was pretty much a flash flood type of event. The water began receding as soon as the rain stopped,” Ashburn said.

Storms also caused flooding in parts of Mississippi. Portions of State Hwy. 61 south of Natchez were covered with 6 to 8 inches of water, closing the road for several hours. Additionally, some two dozen residents in the low-lying areas of Robins Lake and Sibley were evacuated as streams and drainage ditches quickly filled to overflowing. At least two homes in the area were swamped with floodwaters.

In Scott County, located in central Mississippi, almost six inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period, with 5 inches coming down in less than four hours. Scott County Emergency Management Director Alvin Seeney said at least 15 people had to be evacuated from flooded homes.

“Some of the houses had more than a foot of water inside,” Seeney said.

State transportation officials also closed U.S. Hwy. 80 and State Hwy. 35 in the community of Forest due to flooding.

Heavy downpours also hit the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, flooding roads and a number of low-lying homes. In the St. Landry Parish, Fisher Road in Morrow, Bolden Road in LeBeau, Jim’s Camp Road in Bayou Jacks and Crooked Road in Swords were all swamped and impassible, according to the sheriff’s office.

In nearby Avoyelles Parish, the communities of Hessmer and Mansura experienced flooding on streets and along some streams and bayous.

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