Ten years ago this week, Middle Tennessee was faced with a different crisis. Nearly a foot and a half of rain fell on the region in the course of a single weekend. The Cumberland River, along with the streams that feed it, was overwhelmed.
In the resulting floods, 21 Tennesseans died and billions of dollars in property was destroyed. It went down as the costliest disaster in Nashville history.
Before the 2010 flood, few could envision such a disaster. Many thought Nashville was protected by the network of dams and levees along the Cumberland.
Metro Police Sgt. Steve Linn would later recall his shock at discovering just how quickly the waters could rise after responding to a call for assistance near Belle Meade.
“I had no idea what rising water was … of what was in actuality happening,” Linn told an oral historian with the Nashville Public Library’s special collections division.
Linn found out when he arrived at the crossing of Hillwood Boulevard and Harding Pike. Richland Creek had flooded its banks. Nearby railroad tracks were submerged. A tow truck was trying to pull an abandoned car from the water with the help of a Belle Meade police officer in a police cruiser.
“[The water] left its bank. It was totally covering Harding. I mean, flooded to the point where it was totally impassable,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that it was a small river, but it was definitely coming up to that point.”
The tow truck driver gave up and pulled alongside Linn. He told him the Belle Meade officer was still in his car.
“And it just picked up and it just floated around into the woods,” Linn said. “So that was the first problem, I knew that things were really getting out of hand.”
The crisis was beginning to become apparent at a nearby Kroger. Customers had been going about their business as usual on a weekend morning. Then, they released the creek was rising fast.
“Anybody who had any presence of mind just lost it,” Linn said, “because I don’t think anybody really had experienced that kind of rising water that quickly.
“Then, we suddenly realize there’s a gentleman who’s gotten into his car and is attempting to leave the parking lot and drive into even deeper water. And when he did that, his car became a floating object and takes off towards Richland Creek. And at this time, it’s a river and it’s got rapids in it, it’s just flowing.”
The car floated to a spot between the Kroger and the Belle Meade Plaza shopping center, where there’s a small parking garage. The vehicle wedged into the garage, its front end underwater and its rear in the air.
Other people didn’t heed the omen. They started trying to drive through the water too.
“It was very chaotic for a period of time,” Linn said. “I got on the radio. I, of course, started calling for more cars. This was just getting out of hand quickly. I tried to contact Belle Meade to see if they knew about their officer, if he’d gotten out.
“And there was this gentleman, he became, in this red car, he starts hollering for help. … I didn’t know what to do about the Belle Meade officer because he was just sight unseen, but this gentleman in this red car was just a hundred yards or so away so we thought we could at least get him help.
We went over to him and began to try and rescue him. … His car was submerged. We lowered a guy down to his car, tried to break out the glass to get him out of the car, wasn’t able to, then got back up and got some tools, lowered another guy down, broke out the back of his glass.
“The water was rising, and he was about to become submerged and be carried away. But we were able to pull him out and get him to safety.”
The Belle Meade officer also survived, though he wouldn’t be rescued until much later. He was found clinging to a tree, blowing his whistle for help, after abandoning his car. It would take a team of boaters to bring him to safety.