Record rains cause flash flooding in Tennessee; 4 dead

Torrential rains across Tennessee flooded homes and at least one church and left roads impassable, prompting dozens of people to be rescued in the Nashville area. Authorities said four bodies were found Sunday in the flood’s aftermath.

Nashville received more than 7 inches of rain, the second-highest two-day rainfall total ever recorded, Mayor John Cooper said at a news conference Sunday.

Ebony Northern said a normally tame creek running through her Nashville apartment complex swiftly rose after heavy rain started late Saturday night. Within an hour or so, she could see some first-floor units in other parts of the complex being flooded. She said people moved to the second floor and she also heard calls for boats come in over the fire department scanner.

“The units are a mess. Some of the outside air conditioning units have floated off,” she said Sunday morning.

She said the American Red Cross arrived to assist her neighbors.

At least one church canceled in-person Palm Sunday services. The New Tribe Church in Mt. Juliet said on Facebook that knee-deep water flooded the building, busted out the glass of its front entrance and sent chairs through a hallway.

“I am smiling but our hearts are devastated,” Pastor Jarod Smith said at the start of an online service. “We are standing in our worship center and there’s just not enough words to describe what it actually looks like.”

Nashville Fire Chief William Swann said swift-water teams were placed on standby in anticipation of the storms. At least 130 people were rescued from cars, apartments and homes, while about 40 dogs were moved from a Nashville boarding kennel, Camp Bow Wow, to another location.

Cooper said first responders walked along creek beds Sunday and worked with the Red Cross to canvass affected neighborhoods.

A car is seen submerged on I-24 under Antioch Pike in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 28, 2021. Heavy rain across Tennessee flooded homes and roads early Sunday, prompting officials to rescue numerous people from houses, apartments and vehicles as a line of severe storms crossed the state. PHOTO BY ANDREW NELLES/ THE TENNESSEAN VIA AP 

To the south in Williamson County, over 34 swift water rescues were carried out, according to county Emergency Management Agency Director Todd Horton. As many as 18 homes in one neighborhood had to be evacuated.

A portion of Interstate 40 was temporarily shut down due to high water that stranded a vehicle and its driver. The driver was able to get out of the vehicle and to safety, the Tennessee Highway Patrol in Nashville tweeted. First responders also told drivers to avoid part of I-24 south of Nashville.

Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake said three bodies were found after Seven Mile Creek flooded. The body of a 70-year-old Nashville man, identified by police Sunday night as Garry Cole, was found in a submerged car in the creek behind a store. The bodies of a 46-year-old woman and a 64-year-old man were found in a wooded area near a homeless camp.

Drake said a 65-year-old man’s body was found on a golf course. Police later identified him on Twitter as Douglas Hammond, who lived nearby and was swept away as he got out of his car that had become stuck in floodwaters.

Many rivers and creeks were at or near their highest level since 2010, according to the National Weather Service. Floods in May 2010 caused 21 deaths in Tennessee and an estimated $1.5 billion in damage in Nashville.

While there was no longer any precipitation falling, flooding remained a threat, Brittney Whitehead, a weather service meteorologist in Nashville, said Sunday afternoon.

“Over the next couple of days, we’ll see some of our rivers continue to rise. And we’ve got several flood warnings out for those areas that we expect to remain high, at least into Monday,” she said.

Cars stranded in a Walmart parking lot on Nolensville Pike in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 28, 2021. PHOTO BY ANDREW NELLES/ THE TENNESSEAN VIA AP 

Major flooding was forecast on two rivers. The weather service predicted the Harpeth River near Kingston Springs, west of Nashville, would crest about 20 feet (about 6.1 meters) above flood stage on Sunday night, while the Duck River at Centerville would crest about 17 feet (about 5.2 meters) above flood stage Monday morning.

In Bristol, along the Virginia border, a NASCAR race on a dirt track Sunday was postponed until Monday after torrential rains flooded campgrounds and parking lots surrounding Bristol Motor Speedway.

In Brentwood, eight people and a dog stayed overnight at City Hall after flooding from the Little Harpeth River forced residents from their homes, City Manager Kirk Bednar said. Hotels in the area were booked up, in part due to spring break, he said.

Fifteen people were rescued and two were taken to the hospital at the City View Apartments in south Nashville, where the lower level of the building was flooded in waist-deep water. The fire department responded to reports of a collapse at the building following a mudslide, news outlets reported. The two hospitalized patients had injuries not considered to be life-threatening.

Drake, the Nashville police chief, also said an officer on his way home was hospitalized after his vehicle was caught in floodwaters. The officer got out of the car and was found clinging to a tree when he was rescued.

March historically is a turbulent month for weather in Tennessee. Last March, tornadoes killed more than 20 people and destroyed more than 140 buildings in Middle Tennessee.