Severe flooding leaves 28 dead in southern United States

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Many homes were flooded by previously benign creeks and tributaries.

Severe flooding in the southern United States left 28 people dead and caused extensive damage over the weekend. Two days of torrential rainfall, amounting to 13 inches (330 mm) in Nashville, Tennessee, swelled rivers and triggered rapidly rising waters.

The states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi were hit the hardest. The deluge caught many off-guard, forcing stranded residents to be rescued by boat. Parts of downtown Nashville were evacuated, and bus service there was suspended. Thousands of homeowners also lost electricity.

The Cumberland River rose to extremely high levels, nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) above flood stage, and is not expected to return to normal levels until Wednesday morning.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear issued a state of emergency in response to the floods. He said, "The safety of our citizens is my first priority. That is why I urge individuals who encounter high waters to use extreme caution and avoid unnecessary contact with flood waters if at all possible. Our thoughts are especially with those who lost loved ones in the tragic deaths that have been attributed to the weekend's storms." Forty-five counties in the state posted emergency declarations.

In Tennessee, where the storms' death toll continues to rise, Governor Phil Bredesen requested federal assistance from President Barack Obama. After surveying the damage, Bredesen remarked, "We’re going to need a lot of help over these weeks ahead to get out of this."

Total damages from what may be a 500- or 1,000-year flood event could be worth billions of dollars. Many prominent buildings were submerged in the Nashville area, where about 50 schools sustained damage.

Meteorologists explain that the flooding came as a result of a slow-moving weather system that tapped into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and pulled it northward into an unstable air mass. The storms' effects were even felt in Atlanta, Georgia, although to a lesser degree.