Turning onto West Hamilton Drive in North Nashville feels like stumbling upon a ghost town. There’s no sign of life for blocks on the side of the street that backs up to White’s Creek, just boarded up houses.
Next to a few, it looks like people left midway through the job of sorting through waterlogged belongings and never came back. There’s a dining chair with its paint peeling off, a baby’s crib in pieces, a toy truck that’s falling apart, and what looks like it used to be a television stand, all in a pile of wood and metal.
“Before the flood, this was a beautiful area out here, and it still is, it’s just that the creek side over there, all them are gone.” Edward Johnson has lived on West Hamilton for nearly two decades. He’s seen plenty of new families moving in during that time, but only the old guard seem to have come back. He says, “I think I might be now the youngest.”
The retired firefighter has done everything he can to bring his own property back to normalcy, but the view from his front stoop is still much like it was in the weeks after the flood. “So what you do,” he says, “you just try to like–you see it but you don’t see it. You just kind of block it out your mind.”
“Some of the feelings that are brought up when you look out at a neighborhood that you truly cherish and see it’s not what it once was, that sense of loss can be reinforced.”
Brandon Hulette works for the United Methodist church, helping flood victims fix up their homes and rebuild their lives. Hulette says you can’t recover fully until your neighborhood does. And he says that can be just as true for the people who aren’t back in their homes yet.
“We oftentimes see the situation, ‘my house isn’t fixed yet, but all the houses around me are fixed. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?’ And that contributes, I think, to this sense of overwhelming as they try to map out a way forward or reach for assistance. And sometimes that can be the greatest barrier to recovery. That’s really what stops folks.”
Hulette says he’s still hearing from people who are only just feeling ready to begin tearing down drywall and ripping out long-mildewed carpet.
In the meantime, in places like West Hamilton Drive, Edward Johnson says the people who are back keep asking one question. “Everything right now, everybody’s still wondering what. That’s the magic word. What’s going to happen now?”
Most of the empty houses near Johnson’s home belong to Metro now, purchased in the flood buyout program. They’ll be demolished at some point, but there’s a lot of red tape involved.
Where there isn’t a buyout, abandoned houses will probably be condemned.
More: MP3 Direct Link