The Nashville Flood...Why Have We Paid So Little Attention to It?

Patten Fuqua | Posted on 05/10/10

Sometimes disasters have ways of tearing communities apart, sometimes they have ways of binding communities together. In the case of the Nashville floods, the community came together in a way that few could have imagined.

As Nashville and the surrounding area endured what was quite possibly the worst natural disaster in the history of Tennessee last week, I wrote a column for a website called is devoted to our beloved hockey team, the Nashville Predators-that began this way:

"What I am about to write has absolutely nothing to do with hockey."

In the course of talking about what was happening in Nashville and how we were managing, I noted that our plight wasn't getting as much press as some other natural disasters:

If you live outside of Nashville, you may not be aware, but our city was hit by a 500-year flood over the last few days. The national news coverage gave us 15 minutes, but went back to focusing on a failed car bomb and an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While both are clearly important stories, was that any reason to ignore our story? It may not be as terror-sexy as a failed car bomb or as eco-sexy as an oil spill, but that's no reason to be ignored....

A large part of the reason that we are being ignored is because of who we are. Think about that for just a second. Did you hear about looting? Did you hear about crime sprees? didn't. You heard about people pulling their neighbors off of rooftops. You saw a group of people trying to move two horses to higher ground. No...we didn't loot. Our biggest warning was, "Don't play in the floodwater." When you think about it...that speaks a lot for our city. A large portion of why we were being ignored was that we weren't doing anything to draw attention to ourselves. We were handling it on our own.

The headline of the piece: "We Are Nashville."

The response to that blog was absolutely amazing and completely unexpected, but many responders missed the point. Some saw it as a rebuke of the media for not covering our story. Some saw it as an attempt to throw mud in the face of other cities. Most, however, saw it for what it was intended to be - a rallying cry. In times of struggle, communities need to unite to succeed. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a community divided against itself cannot stand. We've seen time and again where communities have banded together to overcome a tragedy.

Shortly after writing the piece, I received an e-mail from Sam Davidson with a group named He was interested in creating a T-shirt to benefit the Community Foundation's Flood Relief Fund and wanted to use "We Are Nashville" on it. After I gave him my permission and some input on the design of the shirt, they had them up for sale on their website by Thursday afternoon. That night, CNN's Anderson Cooper held up the shirt on camera on national television. By Sunday, the shirts had been sold to people in 48 states.

The response to my piece has been amazing, humbling, shocking and overwhelming. It's merely a hockey blog...and my columns probably usually have trouble reaching 100 hits. I'm not claiming to be a great writer or even a good writer. I'm just the messenger - the important part was the message. I just happened to be the one to say it.

Sometimes disasters have ways of tearing communities apart, sometimes they have ways of binding communities together. In the case of the Nashville floods, the community came together in a way that few could have imagined.

While tragedies are always bad-after all, that's why iit's a tragedy--too often the good that results is overlooked. The glue that unites a community in times of need often comes from ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

For instance, on Tuesday morning, Joe Dubin, a reporter for Nashville's ABC affiliate WKRN, reported that animals that had been rescued during the storm were being taken to the Metro Animal Shelter and that the shelter was in dire need of dog food, cat food and cat litter. Within the hour, truckloads of food began arriving to the shelter.  By noontime, there were two rooms filled with supplies and workers were trying to acquire a semi-truck in which to store it all.

One local high school was planningto hold their graduation at the Grand Ole Opry House, but the flood threw a wrench in the plans. For four years, the students at Martin Luther King High School had put money away for graduation and other student activities in the form of dues. When the time came to pick a graduation venue this year, the students voted on the Opry House and paid over $15,000 for it. However, because of the serious flood damage at the Opry House, the school was forced to find a different place. Instead of choosing another spot in an equivalent price range, the students decided to find a less expensive option and use the left over funds to help students and faculty members who were victimized by the flood.

Of course, there were countless stories of people risking their lives to save their neighbors. There were stories of people going out in jet skis and canoes and any form of remotely seaworthy transportation they could lay their hands on to try to save friends and total strangers. Very few did it for recognition because very few received any. By Tuesday morning, Hands On Nashville had signed up more than 12,000 volunteers to assist with flood relief.

As of Sunday, there were still parts of the city underwater and many more that sit either destroyed or severely damaged. The rivers have receded, but our hearts are still heavy. A natural disaster has a way of making one feel absolutely helpless. You see parts of your childhood being bombarded with flood waters and making you feel completely violated. You have your home destroyed, your life threatened and you have to pick up the pieces...and it was nobody's fault. Perhaps everyone in Middle Tennessee felt a sense of helplessness last weekend - There was no way to stop it...and just when it seemed like it couldn't possibly get any worse, it just kept coming.

Many people by now have seen the images of Interstate 24 and the water covering it...but that was only the first day. The second day was when the flood began to seriously have the potential to rip apart lives...and it would be naïve for me to suggest that it didn't. For many people, this disaster was the single most devastating event that they will ever face...and for many of those same people, they stood against it with courage and the conviction to help their fellow man.

As I mentioned earlier, there were 12,000 official volunteers signed up within the first three days, plus countless other unofficial volunteers who exhibited courage under fire that most of the world will never know about. Many of these volunteers were affected by the flood themselves, but they still came out to help those who were even worse off. That's what a real community does. We help our own.

Our city is famous for the music that comes out of it, but a community is not built by its industries; it is built by its people. We did not experience this tragedy as individuals; we experienced it as a community, and we will overcome it as a community.



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