Nashville's famed country music scene quieted by deadly flooding; downtown still without power

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — While city officials reported progress Wednesday restoring Nashville's electrical and water systems after a devastating flood, the downtown remained dark, homes were sodden and patience was wearing thin four days after flash flooding and storms blamed for at least 29 deaths in three states.

Nashville's country music scene also began assessing damage from the floods. The city is considered the heart of country music, and the blazing fiddles and screaming guitars in Nashville's famed downtown honky-tonks were a little quieter as business owners pumped water out of their restaurants and bars.

City officials said Wednesday that electrical and water services were beginning to return to normal. But as the city hurries to get one of its two water treatment plants back on line, water utility director Scott Potter repeated calls to conserve saying they "aren't taking hold yet."

Elsewhere in Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame has closed and the Grand Ole Opry — the most famous country music show in the world — had to move its performances to other concert halls.

The Cumberland River, which winds through the heart of the city, spilled over its banks as Nashville received more than 13 inches of pounding rain over the weekend. The flash floods were blamed in the deaths of at least 18 people in Tennessee alone, including nine in Nashville. Other deaths from the weekend storms were reported in Kentucky and Mississippi.

None of the deaths were in the city's entertainment district, a five-block square of honky-tonks and restaurants downtown where animated barkers often stand outside at night encouraging patrons to step inside. But some businesses were without electricity and had to shut down — a blow to Nashville's economy and reputation as a freewheeling town. The city has more than 11 million visitors annually.

In some hard-hit neighborhoods along the river outside of downtown, residents who had frantically fled their homes returned to find mud-caked floors and soggy furniture.

Evelyn Pearl Bell was thumbing through water damaged items in her home in north Nashville before she got exhausted and had to take a break as temperatures reached 81 by midday. Since the storm flooded her home Sunday, she's had no running water, electricity or telephone service.

Bell said neighbors had to break through a window to get her out of her house and to safety as the waters crept higher and higher. Then they tied her up and dragged her through the water because she couldn't swim, she said.

"When it happened, the guys had to pull me through the water," Bell said.

The Cumberland continued to recede Wednesday. The National Weather Service office in Nashville said the water level in the city had fallen about three feet from its crest of 12 feet above flood stage on Sunday night.

Though officials said there had been a decrease in requests for search and rescue, police in Memphis said a 32-year-old man was missing since he abandoned his car because of high flood waters. His car was found but no one has seen or heard from him since early Saturday, police said.

In Kentucky, authorities also were searching for a missing kayaker who was last seen on the bloated Green River on Monday.

Flood damage at the Country Music Hall of Fame was mostly confined to a mechanical room and did not get in the exhibit area where 112 of country's greatest stars are chronicled in down-home tributes.

At the Opry, five miles northeast of the entertainment district, performer Marty Stuart said he feared water had destroyed instruments, costumes, audio tapes, boots and "just everything that goes along with the Opry and Opry stars."

Singer Chris Young said a special Opry show Tuesday night at the War Memorial Auditorium was a welcome diversion for many residents. Hundreds of people turned out.

"A lot of people coming here have lost either their houses, their possessions or their cars in the storm," he said.

Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed says it will be at least three months before the massive entertainment complex that also includes the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Opry Mills Mall has guests again.

The resort is still assessing the damage, but flooding appeared to have destroyed the first floor of the sprawling complex. Nine acres of atriums are full of water and the temperature is rapidly rising, creating more problems.

"It's going to cost us millions of dollars, but we'll have a thousand people working in the building in the next week," Reed said.

One of the downtown honky-tonks still open is Robert's Western World — "Nashville's undisputed home of traditional country music" as it proclaims on its website.

"There's not much that can shut us down," bartender Sammy Barrett said in a telephone interview as country music blared in the background.

Mayor Karl Dean also was undeterred. "We will go on being a center of tourism and drawing people to our city," he said.

Some entertainment venues weren't damaged, including the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the 118-year-old Ryman Auditorium. A Barenaked Ladies concert there next Monday is still scheduled.

On the other side of the river, LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans, was drying out: The Titans' logo could once again be seen from the air. A four-day country music festival will be at the stadium in five weeks.

The production of country music in the city also seems have survived unscathed from the more than 13.5 inches of rainfall that fell Saturday and Sunday. "Music Row" — an approximately four-square block area that houses recording studios, record labels, song publishing companies and others on the business side of the music industry — is a mile from the river and wasn't flooded.


Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig, Teresa M. Walker, Chris Talbott, Sheila Burke and Caitlin King in Nashville contributed to this report.