Many of our TDF members who live down the street from me and in other parts of the city have lost their homes this weekend. The Pennington Bend area is devastated and the scenes of flooding are surreal. The Opryland Hotel, which I can see from my front porch, is flooded.
Katrina and I live on Pennington Bend, but our house is on the crest of a hill and thankfully we’re safe. But I wanted to give an account from my own limited perspective as to how quickly the flood rose.
On Friday night and Saturday, the rain became torrential and alarming news began coming of cars under water on the interstates. It was still raining on Sunday morning, and we had to make a decision about whether to cancel services. I checked with some other churches and they were having services for those who could come; and area businesses were still open including restaurants. So I decided to do the same at TDF.
In the minutes before the first service, the storms worsened. I wore old clothes and was drenched by the time I got to my office, where I changed into dress clothes. At the last moment, I changed my sermon to an extemporaneous message from 2 Chronicles 20. We made it through the first service, but some people had to leave to deal with water issues at their home.
Between services I inspected the lower levels of the building and was pleased to find no serious leakage. Word was coming in of roads being closed; and we abbreviated the second service. Afterward when I went downstairs I was bewildered to find everything flooded in our adult and youth areas, and in our beautiful new children’s ministry center. We all felt like crying, but there was nothing to do except wait for the waters to recede.
We cancelled evening services and left. Back home, the rain was falling in torrents and I went out in the downpour to dig trenches and try to divert the water from my house. It was coming down the gutters in tanker-fuls.
Then I went back to the church and sloshed through the half-foot of water covering our basement carpet. It was still rising.
I met Van Stewart and his family there, and we learned that conditions were deteriorating on Miami Drive at the bottom of Pennington Bend. We got in his jeep to go see if we could help; but the road to Miami goes through a low-lying area and the water came up to the engine of the jeep.
When the engine stalled in high water, we jumped into the waters and pushed it out to dry ground, and went on foot to our friend’s house where neighbors and TDF members were trying to evacuate their possessions. The Cumberland River had already engulfed their basement and was almost to the door. We worked in the pouring rain, carting out things without rhyme or reason and feeling sick over the quick dash of so many antiques, precious items, and important papers with no time for packing or care. We got everything into a truck, but unfortunately by that time it was too late to get the truck out.
Then news spread that the corps of engineers was opening the dam, and we had ten minutes or we’d be trapped. Almost everyone except the residents grabbed one last load then started leaving.
I was ready to try to get out on foot through the deep water, but Mike Bishop thought his truck might make it. I didn’t. But when Tim Polston forded the river with his truck, we decided to give it a try. The river came up to the hood of Mike’s truck, and the engine almost stalled several times. I don’t understand how we made it. It was as though the truck turned into a boat, and Mike forced it through, with a wake flying up into the windshield. We made it, but we were heartsick about our friends who stayed on what was now an island-street.
Back home, I changed into dry clothes again and then went back to TDF to see Jeff Nichols who was desperately trying to find a way to save our basements. He sent out word and about fifty people came to try to sweep out the water. We finally gave up.
All the time, we were beside ourselves worrying about our friends down the Bend and on Miami Ave. Word came that they were being rescued by boat, and one by one many of them arrived at the church. My most frightening moment was when I learned that two of our young men, along with another man, had been left behind and had tried fording a part of the river and were almost swept away. It’s a miracle they managed to regain their footing and climb to a point where they could be rescued.
For now, everyone is safe and housed. I’ll post some pictures tomorrow of the basements at TDF. Thanks to all who have prayed and worked so hard over the past forty-eight hours.