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After the Flood: Nashville Rebuilds and Reaches Out

Wendy Lee Nentwig | Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer | Monday, May 17, 2010

After the Flood: Nashville Rebuilds and Reaches Out

May 17, 2010

"Rain, rain on my face/It hasn't stopped raining for days/My world is a flood/Slowly I become one with the mud." - "Flood" by Jars of Clay 

It's been a long, wet few weeks here in Music City, and, like many other Nashvillians, I'm exhausted. 

Ever since the water rose the first weekend in May, we've all been digging out and drying off. The 13.5 inches of rain that fell in less than two days - the most in this area in recorded history - affected the entire city. Now that the water is subsiding, it doesn't matter whether or not you suffered any damage personally, everyone is part of the clean up crew. 

I don't know of anyone who hasn't pulled out some soggy drywall, emptied a waterlogged basement, sorted through someone's damp belongings or made food for those who were doing any or all of the above. It's the new normal here in Music City, and we're all pitching in wherever we can. The need for bottled water and sandwiches and cleaning supplies seems never-ending, and at times, it feels like the entire city is still covered in a film of mud. Then there's the mold. Once you get a whiff of it, it's a smell your nose won't soon forget. 

Of course, despite the clean-up effort, we're still in shock. Seeing our beloved Grand Ole Opry under several feet of water will do that, even to a transplanted southerner like myself. Despite its history, though, it can't compare to the human losses suffered. The fact that the storm claimed 30 lives still seems unbelievable. In most cases, they were simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, caught up in floodwaters that rose rapidly in neighborhoods where flooding was unheard of, until there was no way out. 

The water was an equal opportunity offender: it totaled businesses, landmarks, cars and houses in high-end neighborhoods and the most modest areas. No one was immune. Then as soon as the rain stopped, it was replaced with a flood of stories. Between friends, coworkers and fellow churchgoers, everyone knows someone who lost everything. 

My pastor's basement had five feet of water in it. They sent a picture of plastic storage bins and boxes of Christmas ornaments floating around in the muck. A friend's business was underwater. Another friend told a frightening story of getting stuck in standing water that stalled her car's engine and rose to her waist before she could get to safety. Her shoes were washed away in the escape, but she made it to dry land. Others who were safe at home found their neighborhoods surrounded on all sides by water and without electricity for days. 

Then there were our Christian artist "friends." I saw pictures on Facebook of Jars of Clay carrying out recording equipment, instruments and merchandise from their flooded studio. Franklin, a suburb of Nashville that is home to a host of CCM artists, saw its historic downtown cut off when the roads around it were submerged. I talked to Brandon Heath a few days after the storm and he told me about going door to door in his Germantown neighborhood in Nashville inviting flooded neighbors with no electricity to stop by his condo to clean up. It's a safe bet that dozens of others in the music community were doing the same. 

One of the biggest hits to the local music community was when Soundcheck, a popular storage and rehearsal space used by almost every musician in town, began taking on water. It would be days before anyone could get inside to see if there was anything left to salvage. Afterward, there were heartbreaking pictures of rows and rows of guitars, all laid out to dry and in need of repair - if they were salvageable at all. It's said that Vince Gill may have lost up to 80 guitars, many of them irreplaceable. Others lost truckloads of gear, which will make touring in the immediate future difficult to say the least. 

Other musicians lost homes. Country artist Kenny Chesney posted pictures of himself in waders on the submerged porch of his Nashville-area home, loading a salvaged guitar into a boat. Pioneering Christian act Farrell & Farrell, made up of husband and wife Bob and Jayne Farrell, had flooding that all but destroyed their home when nearby Mill Creek overflowed its banks. When the Farrells could finally get back into their home, friends came out to help, but there wasn't a cleaning solution strong enough to salvage the mud-stained gold record plaques they had been awarded over the years for their work on albums by artists like Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith and Sandi Patty. 

My church sent a crew to the Farrells', and it was one of several locations my mom and I brought lunch to this past week. While there, I was impressed to see Amy Grant among the crew, setting up her own personal camper for the couple to use before pulling on some work gloves and pitching in to pull up damaged hardwood flooring inside the house. 

She wasn't alone. Indie artists Kelly Minter and Alli Rogers were also among the musically-inclined I saw working or bringing treats to the crews. Heath and award-winning songwriting Jason Ingram helped with demo at a local Hispanic church that was devastated by the flood. 

Heath and Ingram also organized a concert, their third annual Love Your Neighbor benefit, to help the church. Meanwhile, Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant will be part of Nashville Rising, a larger benefit, that will also feature Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus and others. That concert will be held at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena, which suffered flood damage of its own. And Jars of Clay will turn their now-ironic hit song "Flood" into a fundraiser with the digital EP Flood(ed) - A Benefit

As I write this, it's raining again -- a noisy, spring thunderstorm that I wouldn't have given a second thought to a few weeks ago. But now everything is different. A storm is no longer just a storm. The rumbling in the sky sounds ominous, and instead of being thankful that my petunias will get some much-needed water, my thoughts go to the crews that have been out all morning working in the heat and humidity and are now caught in this deluge. I worry about the fragile families I've met who have spend days dragging their belongings out into their front or back yards, laying out what might be salvaged to dry. Now that drying process will have to start all over again. But at least I know they won't be going through it alone. 

The new sense of community that was born from this disaster doesn't make the damage all worthwhile. I'm sure those who lost their homes or, worse yet, loved ones would much rather have things back the way they were a few weeks ago. And who could blame them? But we can't turn back time or roll back the floodwaters. What we can do is show God's love in a more tangible way than seemed possible just a few short weeks ago. While this flood may have made devastating changes to the Nashville landscape, its aftermath has made positive changes in the hearts of its residents that won't soon be forgotten.

To learn more about clean-up efforts in Nashville or to donate, visit Cross Point Church or the Red Cross.

Photo of Bob and Jayne Farrell (Farrell & Farrell) and Amy Grant courtesy of Wendy Lee Nentwig.