Amanda Fatheree had about an hour to flee the floodwaters from her west Nashville home Sunday with her husband, mother and three young children. What she saw when she returned a day later left her heartbroken.
Furniture she and her husband spent years paying off stood in their front yard, soaked and caked with mud from deadly flooding caused by record-busting rains that forced thousands to evacuate — some by boat and canoe. Her children’s toys, clothes, books and games were destroyed, along with two vehicles that were left behind.
“When I first got here, I just cried and cried. My whole life was gone,” she said.
Officials in Tennessee on Thursday reported the state’s 20th death from the storm. The deaths of at least 30 people in Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky were blamed on weekend flooding and tornadoes.
The new death was in Memphis, where police reported that Terrance Williams, 32, went missing Saturday after his car was disabled in rising floodwaters. Police found a body Wednesday but haven’t yet released the identity.
Two other people were missing in Nashville, and searches are under way for two in Kentucky.
Nashville police said 29-year-old Danny Tomlinson was last seen Sunday when his vehicle ran into high waters. Daniel Alexander Brown, 18, went missing while tubing Sunday on Mill Creek.
In Kentucky, 18-year-old John Pickerell was kayaking Wednesday with two friends on Lake Cumberland when their boat capsized. The others swam to shore but couldn’t find Pickerell. Another kayaker, Robert W. Atcher, 55, was last seen Monday afternoon in the swollen Green River.
The flooding was caused by rains of more than 13 inches and affected both rich and poor in this metropolitan area of about 1 million.
Mayor Karl Dean estimates the damage from weekend flooding could easily top $1 billion in Nashville alone, but on Thursday, he encouraged visitors to come and promised to greet them personally.
As the rain-swollen Cumberland River continued to recede Thursday, one of Nashville’s two water plants was disabled, but officials said progress was being made. Power was restored to such famous buildings as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, but about 3,000 customers were still without power. Parts of downtown were still off-limits to pedestrians.
It was getting easier to get around Nashville, and to clean up. City crews were set to begin hauling away residents’ flood-ruined possessions Thursday and some roads, closed by high water, reopened.
In Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville, some were concerned about safety because the flooding had caused sewers to overflow in many places.
In the Cottonwood subdivision, white specks littered the ground.
“It’s sewage,” said Peggy Poag, a 52-year-old physical therapist. “You see all this white stuff — it’s toilet paper.”
Adam Johnston, 28, in the same subdivision, was told by a contractor to use lime to fight the sewage smell in his home.
“Whatever gets rid of the smell,” he said.
Back in Nashville, Ralithea Hill and her husband returned home to find almost everything damaged or destroyed by water. They swam out of their front yard early Sunday, each carrying one of the family dogs.
“In a matter of 30 minutes, everything you worked for, everything you thought was valuable, it all looks like trash,” said Hill, a 39-year-old surgical technologist and mother of four. The family’s furniture, clothes, bedding and rugs sat in the front of their north Nashville home, soaked and contaminated by the dirty water. She said there was no chance at saving any of it.
The flash floods were blamed in the deaths of at least 18 people in Tennessee alone, including nine in Nashville. An additional 10 deaths from the weekend storms were reported in Kentucky and Mississippi, and one person was killed over the weekend by a tornado in Tennessee.
Although the National Weather Service said the Cumberland had dropped about 3 feet from its crest of 12 feet on Sunday, water still covered the city’s so-called tent city, home to about 140 homeless people under an interstate bypass along the riverbank. Several former residents walked the railroad tracks that bordered the high side of the encampment Wednesday to see if they could recover any of their belongings.
“People have been trickling down here all day long,” said Raphael McPherson, a 47-year-old resident who was at the site trying to find his cat, Jack. “They’re trying to see how far the water has receded and if they can even go back and get anything, but it’s a toxic area now.”
McPherson and others said city officials had told them contaminants from the surrounding industrial area would make their campsite uninhabitable even after the water goes down.
“They’re not going to open tent city again,” he said.
Associated Press Writer Teresa M. Walker in Franklin, Tenn., contributed to this report.