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The Flood


This is not the city we lived in five days ago.

We woke last Saturday morning — May 1, 2010, the ominously designated May Day — to a sky the color of a livid bruise and rain that steadily increased from strong to torrential. It didn't let up. By late afternoon, a children's birthday party at the Hillwood Strike & Spare near Bellevue let out to a sky split by lightning and rivulets swelling into whitewater.

In Antioch, motorists on I-24 realized too late that an impossibility had overtaken them — symbolized by the sight of an uprooted portable building lumbering into view like a ghost ship. In Germantown, in Bordeaux, in Antioch, where the roiling Mill Creek brought traffic to a standstill, the waters churned. In Franklin, homeowners along the Harpeth watched the river rise with terrifying speed. "It was like something alive," one said.

By Sunday afternoon, two realizations set in, equally chilling. The disaster befalling Tennessee was worse than anyone could possibly have imagined — and yet we had no idea how bad it would get.

Those of us with power watched as the unthinkable happened again and again on live TV. Or we followed updates chasing the lightning on a buzzing web of electronic media — a support network emerging from isolated pinpricks. Those without watched helplessly as their homes and belongings washed away, their cars, their keepsakes, their family photos. Entire communities were devastated. Nashville, for all practical purposes, became an island.

In the weeks — months, years — to come, we will have time to consider the magnitude of the disaster. The destruction done to the Opryland Hotel and Opry Mills, let alone the tourist district on Lower Broadway and Second Avenue, will ripple throughout the city's economy. And yet it will pale beside the devastation of communities from Kingston Springs and Ashland City to Antioch and Inglewood. The vast majority of Middle Tennessee homeowners never had reason even to consider flood insurance.

At the moment, though, as the city takes a deep breath before coming up for air, we look back at the images that held us riveted with disbelief over the weekend. Some came from our own photographers, aware they were trying to catch history on the fly. Many, however, came from the kaleidoscope of images that appeared online with dizzying speed — the clearest, and in some senses truest, picture of the event. We have also provided some eyewitness accounts of the flood, along with a list of vital services we'll need in the long dry spell ahead.

Many years from now, we'll look at these pictures and scarcely believe our eyes, while our grandchildren will look on with astonishment. Until then, we'll continue to dry off, lift our neighbors to higher ground, and show the world the resolve of our unsinkable city.

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