I guess by now you’ve all heard about the Great Nashville Flood of 2010.
Oh, wait? You haven’t? You haven’t heard about a historic flood that only happens about once every 500 years that has nearly washed away huge swaths of Nashville and Middle Tennessee?
Hmmm. Thousands of people lost their homes. Historic downtown landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry were flooded. The metro area’s water supply was so threatened that only the grace of God, some luck, and a few thousand sandbags hefted by desperate volunteers to shore up the lone remaining water treatment plant in town preserved our access to clean water. My county (Davidson) and three others have been declared federal disaster areas. Here, check out local NewsChannel 5’s coverage and the Tennessean for detailed information about what’s really been happening.
And even now that the waters are receding, the impact is going to linger for a long, long time. Houses that were filled with floodwater may soon be overtaken by mold, for example and the economic effects are going to stagger the region. We depend on convention and tourism here. With the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center closed for a few months while they attempt to clean and restore it, that will take out a big chunk of money coming into our city.
Horrified by what happened? I am. I’m even more upset by the fact that the national media has chosen to downplay the coverage of this flood. Y’all know that I’m a journalist, and I’m not one to bash the media because hello, I AM the media. Or was, at any rate. Even though I’m no longer working for a mainstream media outlet full-time, those people are still my colleagues, in an extended-family kind of way. Our local news stations and newspaper and other media outlet have performed heroically. It’s hard to work in those circumstances, and they’ve done a great job. But the national media has been so consumed by a car bomb that wasn’t that they’ve shortchanged their coverage of a terrible, unprecedented event that has and will continue to affect the lives of countless people for many months, even years to come. I don’t mind the fact that many national media outlets are obsessed with the environmental disaster off the Gulf Coast; it, too, has long-ranging repercussions that will affect millions of lives. But an amateur car bomb that was thwarted in Times Square? Please. (My friend Alicia puts it this way: “Millions of people affected, and yet the thwarted Fisher-Price-caliber Time Square bomber got waaaay more press.”
It’s not the reporters, though, who were ultimately making those decisions when it came to coverage. It was the higher-ups, the powers-that-be, as I like to refer to them. They’ve shown pretty poor news judgement, in my opinion. Shame on them. Shame on them for choosing the sexy, sensationalistic story and covering it so breathlessly, while only giving a second thought to the flood in Tennessee. Like I said, I’m pretty much the last person who is going to blame the media. They didn’t cause this event. No one did. But I wish that the national media had seen fit to pay more attention to what was happening down here earlier. Now, we’re seeing some national outlets jumping on the wagon, sending a few reporters down here to survey the damage. But it sure did take them awhile to sit up and notice. A cynical part of me wonders if we would have garnered more attention if we weren’t a Southern city. There’s no way to know for sure, of course. And I seriously doubt that there was any malice intended in the shortchange in coverage. But I’m still annoyed. And not a few other Nashvillians feel the same way.
(I should note here, however, that NPR did focus a good part of Talk of the Nation on Tuesday about the flood. And Keith Olbermann on MSNBC had a few pointed comments to make on his program a couple of nights ago. I’m not saying that the flood got totally ignored.)
One bright spot: a healthy baby girl was born in my neighborhood on Sunday, as the rains came falling down. Five doctors (including my husband, David) and three nurses waded through the rain to a house in our little ‘burb, surrounded by rising floodwaters on all sides. No one could safely get in or out of our neighborhood by car at that point; the neighborhoods nearby were already flooded. The electricity was out. The phones were out. None of the doctors had any of their usual medical equipment. Certainly, that poor mom didn’t get an epidural or any pain relief, which still makes me wince when I think about it. And yet the mother was a champ, and the baby was born, vigorous and crying, right there on her neighbor’s bed, under the haze of candles and flashlights. An ambulance somehow got through and took both of them to a hospital after the fact. And the doctors and nurses celebrated with a beer. It’s nice that at least one really good thing happened in the midst of such a disaster. Well, I should qualify that. There are actually lots of good things happening here. You should see all the volunteers who are out there today, in the heat, pulling out ruined floors and ripping out drywall and insulation and hauling away ruined appliances and furniture. Locals are organizing benefit concerts and art shows and food drives to help out the people who lost everything. And unfortunately, there are lots of people who lost everything.
Want to contribute? Hands on Nashville is taking donations at http://www.hon.org. So are area churches and the YMCA and a number of other agencies. People here really are coming together to help each other out, but they can definitely use more help.
Update: four more Tennessee counties have been approved today by President Obama as federal disaster areas, meaning that residents can apply for federal disaster relief funds. Also, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee is taking donations for flood victims. And my friends at Cool People Care are selling “We Are Nashville” t-shirts to raise money for flood disaster relief. The catchphrase came from another blog writer who wrote more eloquently about this issue that I did.)