AUDIO FEATURE: Cheatham County Recovery A Step Behind Nashville

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Rescue operations in the state have now been limited to Davidson and Cheatham counties. Both areas continue to deal with the high waters of the Cumberland River. Near Ashland City, search parties are taking to the water in boats making sure everyone’s accounted for.

 

WPLN’s Blake Farmer reports.

On Wednesday, helicopters zipped back and forth over city hall.

REPORTER: “Who is this right here?“

MAYS: “That’s a chopper going to make a drop at the nursing home.”

Doris Mays watches as Blackhawks from the Tennessee National Guard transport bottled water and MRE’s – meals ready to eat – to residents still hemmed in by the Cumberland River. Mays is the assistant director of emergency management in Cheatham County.

The flooding caused 20 fatalities across the state, but none have been confirmed here, even though the area was one of the hardest hit. Mays says that may be because the search has just begun.

MAYS: “The water still hasn’t gone down enough to get into some of the houses. So yeah, they’re out looking, marking homes, things of that nature.”

Not everyone on the water is doing search and rescue.

KAREN THORNTON: “You want to push it out a little, Randy?”

Randy Thornton pilots a borrowed boat to his house in the Cumberland River near Ashland City.

Randy Thornton pilots a borrowed boat to his house in the Cumberland River near Ashland City.

In this flat-bottomed fishing boat – borrowed from a family member – it still takes Karen and Randy Thornton a five-minute cruise to get to their log home.

RANDY THORNTON: “You won’t see the river this big in your lifetime again.”

Randy Thornton, a recently unemployed electrician, says he built this house well above the 100 year flood plain, as he trolls through the tops of trees that were in his back yard. The Thornton’s house is still standing, and the water has gone down about four feet from a high-water mark on the side of the house.
Inside, everything is mud-coated – the kitchen cabinets, the couches and the carpet.

Karen Thornton looks out over the water that still surrounds her house on the Cumberland River near Ashland City.

Karen Thornton looks out over the water that still surrounds her house on the Cumberland River near Ashland City.

Karen Thornton shuffles down the short hallway to the two downstairs bedrooms. One is decorated in red, white and blue. She looks in and lowers her voice.

KAREN THORNTON: “This was going to be my son’s room. I have all his stuff in here. This was sitting in here on the floor, water up to here in the closet.”

Thornton cracks open a wooden chest with her son’s knife collection and odds and ends from his life. He helped build this house, but he never lived in it. The teenager died in a car accident eight years ago. His still-grieving mother pulls out a photo and looks away.

KAREN THORNTON: “That was him and his dog.”

Thornton says she sometimes sleeps in this room. She won’t again anytime soon. Aside from the mud and water, the floors are buckled throughout the house and it’s unclear what a weekend in the rushing Cumberland did to the foundation.

Out on the front porch, which now looks more like a boat dock, Randy Thornton grabs a fishing pole and props his bare feet on the railing.

RANDY THORNTON: “I can fish off my front porch, can you.”

You’ve got to have a sense of humor, he says. And that’s how many people feel – even Dan Reigle.

REPORTER: “Is that all your lumber that’s sitting outside?”

REIGLE: “Floating around, yeah.”

The sign outside Midway Supply Company in Ashland City, where an estimated $500,000 in inventory was lost.

The sign outside Midway Supply Company in Ashland City, where an estimated $500,000 in inventory was lost.

Stacks of lumber and drywall that Reigle and his employees at Midway Supply Company couldn’t move to higher ground are now floating away in the Cumberland River.

Reigle says business was already slow. Before the flooding, he laid off nearly half his employees. But he says he’s making a go of it.

REIGLE: “When the waters stopped coming up and started going down, you can go home and cry or you can say, ok, I’ve got to make a plan and see if we can fix it. That’s what we’re doing.”

In a county with so much destruction, it’s hard to have a pity party, he says, even over half-a-million dollars in lost inventory.

REIGLE: “We’ve got post office flooded. The Corps of Engineers building is flooded. We’ve got a school flooded. 1,200 people living in a school in Kingston, and I see people driving by saying ‘are you ok?’ and I’m like ‘yeah,’ and they lost their house. You can’t feel sorry for yourself right here.”

One example of making the best of a bad situation – Reigle’s foreman has been corralling floating 2x4s with his boat and a rope in hopes the boards will sink inside the lumber yard when the river eventually recedes.

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