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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flood of Aught Ten: Hickman County

Our friends Sharon and Mike live beside Lick Creek in Hickman County, in a converted dairy parlor off a graveled road. We drove out there for dinner last night. What we saw, like all flood destruction, is both hard to believe and hard to describe.

The concrete county bridge in front of their house had been partly cleared, but the bottom twenty feet of a tree, more than two feet in diameter, was still wedged into the railing on top of the bridge. A swimming-pool sized hole had been dug by the currents as the water rushed across the pastures and over the road. A forest of trees was piled like twigs alongside the now-placid creek. Sharon described the pinging sound as boards from their fences popped off one by one "like dominoes" and floated away. The surging floods tore down an old stone berm and dropped boulders the size of engine blocks two hundred feet away.

The mayor was stranded in his office in Centerville for four days, without cell phones, land lines, or radio. Hickman County, in the year 2010, a mere 50 miles from Nashville, was completely cut off. Finally someone found an old-fashioned ham radio operator, who could begin to get word out about conditions in the county.

Mike and Sharon have a spring-fed water system and a well, but the county water system has been destroyed--not just the processing plant, but miles of pipes have washed away. I heard an estimate that it would take three months to restore clean water. This is a poor county in the best of times, and people were barely getting by before this disaster.

Cheatham County, just down the road from us, had similar problems. Helicopters were dropping MRE rations and water to folks who could not be reached any other way.

Government response, both federal and local, has been timely and relatively efficient, though there is no way for a disaster of this size to really be managed. The volunteer response has been magnificent, and thousands of flooded houses have been gutted back to the studs. Gigantic mountains of household waste--sodden drywall, couches, and carpet--are accumulating everywhere.

And it's raining today.

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