It rained nonstop the weekend of May 1-2, 2010. Nashvillians watched, helpless, as their yards became lakes, and their homes filled with water. The local news shifted from covering the copious amounts of rainfall to covering the ensuing flooding and those stranded by the rising waters.

The Cumberland River crept up its banks and right up Broadway all the way to 4th Avenue, finally cresting at nearly 12 feet above its flood stage. Meanwhile, smaller surrounding creeks and tributaries followed suit, unable to be contained. For those of us who lived through the Nashville Flood, we likely will never forget the images that emerged in the days that followed: people climbing into their attics, breaking through their roofs to escape hoping to be rescued. Water pouring through the front doors of Pep Boys (video below). An older couple on their way to church that Sunday who lost their lives when they were swept away by the currents near the Belle Meade Kroger. Each story seemed at once horrifying and unbelievable, and yet, the photos and videos that emerged in the news and on new-at-the-time Facebook substantiated each one.

If you are new to Nashville in the past 10 years, you may be wondering why you didn’t hear about the Nashville Flood on the national news, a cataclysmic flood that caused more than $2 billion in damages to one of America’s great cities. That is because there was very little coverage about it. The Times Square bombing in New York City happened the same weekend and all coverage went there. That’s okay, Nashville did what it always does: Nashville took care of itself, one neighbor at a time.

Aftermath of Nashville Flood

Nashville residents watched floodwaters whisk away their cars and more, during the weekend of May 1-2, 2010. Image: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk via Flickr CC

Demonbreum's Cave sign in flood water

The Cumberland River reached nearly 12 feet above its flood stage, drowning Lower Broadway in water. Image: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk via Flickr CC

Nashville Strong poster

Always have been, always will be. Image: BBC World Service via Flickr CC

Pile of debris after the Nashville Flood

Sights like this were not uncommon throughout the city: piles of debris and people’s belongings awaiting transport to the dump. Image: Allison Stillwell Young via Flickr CC

The rain eventually did end, after dumping more than 13 inches of water on Middle Tennessee and taking the lives of 26 people — 11 of them Nashvillians. The damage was unfathomable … breathtaking, really. Even more breathtaking, though, was the extensive show of support Nashvillians displayed for one another. Volunteers descended upon the hardest-hit parts of the city. Enormous piles of debris appeared on the edges of neighborhood streets — evidence of neighbors helping neighbors clear out soggy drywall and lost treasures. I remember spotting a car overturned in a riverbed, having been swept away and deposited there once the waters could carry it no further, and a deceased cow lodged in the overpass at the Bellevue exit off of I-40, proof that no creature was safe from the impact of this natural disaster.

In the end, Nashville did what it always does: we got through it. We cleaned up, rebuilt, and grew stronger as a result. And we’ll continue to do the same after the tornado, and the same after this pandemic we’re all living with today.

We will face the challenge of today and emerge better off for having done so. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again.

Because we are #NashvilleStrong.


Below are photos, reprinted with permission, from The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later, an exhibit currently on display at Frist Art Museum, located at 919 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203. The exhibit, which was to conclude on May 17, 2020, has been extended tentatively through January 3, 2021, to allow people to view it once the Frist is once again open to visitors.

First responders during the Nashville Flood

In one of the most iconic shots that circulated during the Nashville Flood, this photograph, by Shelley Mays, shows members of the Metro Fire Department Special Operation Unit rescuing a Belle Meade police officer, Norm Shelton, off Harding Road in Belle Meade. He had been clinging to a tree for an hour before being rescued. Image: Shelley Mays, courtesy of The Tennessean

Downtown Nashville flooded with water

Another iconic photo from the Nashville Flood, this one looks down First Avenue toward Broadway and illustrates just how high the Cumberland’s waters rose. Image: Larry McCormack, courtesy of The Tennessean

The Nations neighborhood after the Nashville Flood

The Nations neighborhood was extremely hard-hit as Richland Creek poured into — and destroyed — so many homes in the area. Image: Samuel M. Simpkins, courtesy of The Tennessean

Debris on Antioch Pike in Nashville

This home on Antioch Pike looks like what so many homes and yards looked like — contents from within discarded and rendered useless from the flood. Image: Larry McCormack, courtesy of The Tennessean

Cars stacked on top of one another after the Nashville Flood

Cars stacked on top of one another is evidence of the sheer force of the rushing waters. Image: Shelley Mays, courtesy of The Tennessean

Bellevue train tracks submerged in water

These Bellevue train tracks were no match for the floodwaters. Image: Sanford Myers, courtesy of The Tennessean

Nashville residents transported via canoe

Residents are transported to higher ground via canoe. Image: Clinton Larson, courtesy of the Nashville Public Library, Special Collections

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center after the Nashville Flood

The Schermerhorn Symphony Center required $40 million in restoration and repairs as a result of the Nashville Flood. Image: Larry McCormack, courtesy of The Tennessean

The Delta Portico of the Opryland Hotel under water

The Delta Portico of the Opryland Hotel was completely underwater, requiring a 195-day closure in order to rebuild. Image: John Partipilo, courtesy of The Tennessean

Nashville musician playing the guitar after the city's flood

Musician Dover Anthony was trapped on the top floor of the Knights Inn. So he kept busy by playing music and writing a song. Image: John Partipilo, courtesy of The Tennessean

Thank you to Frist Art Museum for sharing these images from The Nashville Flood: Ten Years Later. Learn more about the exhibit HERE.


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