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‘Need is so great,’ exec says of TN flood

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–All of the 185 churches in the Nashville Baptist Association were impacted by the record Middle Tennessee flood in some way, with some seeing nearly half the members in their congregation suffering flood damage, the association’s director said May 5.

The May 1-2 flood has put nearly every church in the area in disaster relief mode, either through cleaning up the church building itself or assisting members and neighbors who experienced flood damage, or both. Thousands of houses were flooded after a record 13-plus inches of rain — more in some areas — fell over a two-day period, pushing creeks and rivers far over their banks. Although the rain stopped Sunday, many houses remained under water Wednesday. But the Cumberland River, which crested Monday at 12 feet above flood stage, was falling.

President Obama declared four counties — Davidson, Cheatham, Williamson and Hickman — disaster areas, and more could be added to the list. Although Nashville has received the most national coverage, multiple other communities, such as Clarksville, Ashland City and Franklin, sustained significant damage. Parts of West Tennessee, including Dyersburg, also received major flooding.

“You’ve got thousands of houses that were submerged and most of those people did not have insurance,” Rusty Sumrall, executive director of the Nashville Baptist Association, told Baptist Press. “I think we’re in this for the long haul. The need is so great.”

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean told The Tennessean newspaper he estimates the city experienced at least $1 billion in damage.

The Tennessee Baptist Convention has set up a disaster relief fund specifically for Tennessee flood relief (http://bit.ly/bKmPhC). The Nashville Baptist Association website has a list of needed items, as well as web forms for those requesting help and those wanting to volunteer (www.nashvillebaptistassociation.org).

“We’re going to need volunteers,” Sumrall said.

Around 30 churches in the association experienced at least some flood damage, Sumrall said. A truck stop ministry at a TA Travel Center off Interstate 65 in downtown Nashville was completely destroyed. It had a small chapel that seated around a dozen people.

“There are thousands and thousands of people impacted,” Sumrall said.

Ricky Lee, pastor of Harpeth Heights Baptist Church in Nashville, estimates that at least 35-40 percent of his congregation suffered “significant damage” to their homes.

Said Sumrall, “I think you’ll have several churches where you’ll have that kind of statistic.”

The flood, Lee said, has led to multiple tragic stories. In one instance, a Harpeth Heights church family — wife, teenage daughter and infant — travelled to Louisiana for a weekend funeral service for their 47-year-old husband/father, only to discover while gone that their house was completely submerged and they had lost everything.

Greg Watkins, director of church support & recreation for the Nashville Baptist Association, said more than 100 houses in his neighborhood in the Nashville community of Bellevue were under water, not to mention “scores” of condos in the area that also received major damage. “Multiple other neighborhoods” around him were flooded, he said.

In West Tennessee, Joe Wright, director of missions for the Dyer Baptist Association in Dyersburg, said Wednesday the south side of the city was still under water, including Southside Baptist Church.

“We are looking at a 100-year flood for Dyersburg,” he said, adding that the damage has been extensive.

Earlier this week flood assessors said that at least 461 structures in Dyersburg had been affected by flood waters, he said. Wright said clean-up and mud-out teams will be needed.

“We are looking at a two to four-week recovery response, if not longer, he said.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The B&R may be read online at www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews. Donate to Tennessee flood disaster relief @ http://bit.ly/bKmPhC. Learn other ways you can help @ http://bit.ly/dCCACC or http://bit.ly/bSLL5b.

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  • Michael Foust