Image: Flood-hit home
Jeff Roberson  /  AP
This flood-damaged home was being cleared out and cleaned up on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn.
msnbc.com news services
updated 5/6/2010 8:07:53 AM ET 2010-05-06T12:07:53

Residents and volunteers in Nashville Wednesday dug through ruined possessions, mud and debris inundating flood-hit homes and businesses, with the recovery from deadly weekend storms hampered by power outages.

Nearly 1,000 people in Tennessee were living in emergency shelters, according to the Red Cross, and 10,000 were without power.

The overflowing Cumberland River and its tributaries were gradually retreating in Nashville, but flood waters that submerged part of downtown and forced evacuations across the region have caused billions of dollars in losses, officials said.

President Barack Obama granted the state's request for disaster relief in four counties, with more areas likely to receive federal help.

Nashville officials pleaded with residents to conserve water as the city was relying on a single water treatment plant that sandbags had barely spared from the flooding.

In parts of downtown, power was not expected back until Thursday at the earliest.

In some hard-hit neighborhoods along the river outside of downtown, residents who had frantically fled their homes returned to find mud-caked floors and soggy furniture.

Evelyn Pearl Bell was thumbing through water damaged items in her home in north Nashville before she got exhausted and had to take a break as temperatures reached 81 by midday. Since the storm flooded her home Sunday, she's had no running water, electricity or telephone service.

Bell said neighbors had to break through a window to get her out of her house and to safety as the waters crept higher and higher. Then they tied her up and dragged her through the water because she couldn't swim, she said.

Video: Residents hunt memories in floodwater debris "When it happened, the guys had to pull me through the water," Bell said.

Elsewhere in Nashville, the Country Music Hall of Fame closed and the Grand Ole Opry — the most famous country music show in the world — had to move its performances.

A scheduled performance Tuesday night at the Grand Ole Opry was moved to the downtown War Memorial Building, where Senator Lamar Alexander performed "Tennessee Waltz" on piano.

Among the country stars on hand was Jeannie Seely, who lost her home to the flood and had to borrow shoes.

"Well, you can laugh about it or cry and I don't want to cry," Seely told the audience.

The Cumberland River, which winds through the heart of the city, spilled over its banks as Nashville received more than 13 inches of pounding rain over the weekend. The flash floods were blamed in the deaths of at least 18 people in Tennessee alone, including nine in Nashville. Other deaths from the weekend storms were reported in Kentucky and Mississippi.

None of the deaths were in Nashville's entertainment district, a five-block square of honky-tonks and restaurants downtown where animated barkers often stand outside at night encouraging patrons to step inside. But some businesses had to shut down — a blow to Nashville's economy and reputation as a freewheeling town. The city has more than 11 million visitors annually.

The National Weather Service office in Nashville said Wednesday that the water level in the city had fallen about three feet from its crest of 12 feet above flood stage on Sunday night.

The water at the Country Music Hall of Fame was mostly confined to a mechanical room and did not get in the exhibit area where 112 of country's greatest stars are chronicled in down-home tributes.

Reader photos of the floodsAt the Opry, five miles northeast of the entertainment district, performer Marty Stuart said he feared water had destroyed instruments, costumes, audio tapes, boots and "just everything that goes along with the Opry and Opry stars."

Singer Chris Young said the special Opry show Tuesday night at the War Memorial Auditorium was a welcome diversion for many residents. Hundreds of people turned out.

"A lot of people coming here have lost either their houses, their possessions or their cars in the storm," he said.

Gaylord Entertainment CEO Colin Reed says it will be at least three months before the massive entertainment complex that also includes the Opryland Hotel and the Opry Mills Mall has guests again.

Rita Helms, a customer service representative at the Opry, said some workers have been distraught.

"It's very sad for the employees and a few have even been in tears," she said.

Image: The Grand Ole Opry House and Opry Mills shopping mall sit in flood waters
M.J. Masotti Jr.  /  Reuters
The Grand Ole Opry House, left, and Opry Mills shopping mall, right, sit in flood waters on the bank of Cumberland River on Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee.
One of the downtown honky-tonks still open is Robert's Western World — "Nashville's undisputed home of traditional country music" as it proclaims on its website.

"There's not much that can shut us down," bartender Sammy Barrett said in a telephone interview as country music blared in the background.

The entertainment district is generally filled with a mix of tourists and locals — all out for a hand-clapping good time. Some people still milled around the area Tuesday.

"They like the vibe they get here," said Jimmy (The Governor) Hill, who works for a downtown bar and a restaurant. "The bands start playing at 10 in the morning; you don't have things like that in every town."

Mayor Karl Dean also was undeterred. "We will go on being a center of tourism and drawing people to our city," he said.

Some entertainment venues weren't damaged, including the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, the 118-year-old Ryman Auditorium. A Barenaked Ladies concert there next Monday is still scheduled.

Video: Bodies in the water? On the other side of the river, LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans, was drying out: The Titans' logo could once again be seen from the air. A four-day country music festival will be at the stadium in five weeks.

The production of country music in the city also seems have survived unscathed from the more than 13.5 inches of rainfall that fell Saturday and Sunday. "Music Row" — an approximately four-square block area that houses recording studios, record labels, song publishing companies and others on the business side of the music industry — is a mile from the river and wasn't flooded.

The water swelled most of the area's lakes, minor rivers, creeks, streams and drainage systems far beyond capacity. Much of that water then drained into the Cumberland, which snakes through Nashville.

The weekend's storms that spawned tornadoes along with flash flooding also killed six people in Mississippi and four in Kentucky. One person was killed by a tornado in western Tennessee.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Deadly flooding in Tennessee and Mississippi

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  1. Contractor Jimmy Johnson, right, pulls insulation from a flooded home on Thursday, May 6. Massive rainstorms caused 10 deaths and the Cumberland River to flood its banks, rising to its highest level in over 70 years. (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Tammy Awali, right, hugs her mother, Patti Hollingsworth, as her granddaughter watches at left in Nashville on May 6. Volunteers helped salvage some of the personal items out of their flooded home. (John Partipilo / The Tennessean via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Vinyl records and CDs lie outside to dry in the Cottonwood community of Franklin, Tenn., on May 6. (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The high-water mark can be seen where dried mud has stained shubbery behind a basketball goal at a park in Franklin, Tenn., on May 6. (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Doug Jones loads salvaged belongings onto a truck as he helps a friend move in Bellevue, Tenn., on May 6. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Road crews survey the damage to Tucker Road in Nashville, Tenn., on May 6. Flood waters from White's Creek raced through the neighborhood during last weekends storms, destroying roads and dozens of homes. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Willie Mae Strickland takes stock of her flood ravaged belongings, on May 6 in Nashville, Tenn. Strickland is certain that all of her clothing will have to be thrown out. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Boots, hats and clothing lay soaked from floodwaters at Nashville Cowboy on Second Ave. on Wednesday, May 5. (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A Nashville house sits in the middle of the street after being washed from its foundation by the flood on Wednesday. (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Catherine Lackey on Tuesday, May 4, stands next to a deck that ended up in the front yard of her sister and brother-in-law's flood-damaged home in Nashville. The deck was originally attached to a home across the street. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Floodwaters from the Cumberland River are pumped from a building as businesses begin to clean up in downtown Nashville on Tuesday. (Erik S. Lesser / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Carrie Johnson on Tuesday cleans photographs salvaged from the flood-damaged home of a friend in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A sign in River Front Park is visible once again as the waters of the Cumberland River slowly started to ebb across from LP Field on Tuesday in Nashville. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Clare Baker, right, hugs her friend Melinda Murphy after helping her salvage items from Baker's flood-damaged home on Tuesday in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Cornelia Fort Airpark in Nashville is swamped by flood waters on Tuesday. (Jeff Roberson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Parts of Nashville were still flooded on Tuesday. (Jeff Gentner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Workers clear debris and attempt to save client records at an insurance office on Monday in south Nashville, Tenn. Homeowners and businesses began to clean up after more than 13 inches of rain fell over two days. (Rusty Russell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Cars and other debris are heaped after flooding on Antioch Pike near Nashville, Tenn. on Monday, May 3. (Shelley Mays / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The entrance to the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn., was surrounded by floodwaters on Monday, May 3. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabe Owings, left, and T.J. Holmes remove a flood-damaged couch from a home in Millington, Tenn., on Sunday. (Lance Murphey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People walk to waiting cars on Sunday after they were brought across floodwaters by boat from the Somerset Farms subdivision in Nashville. (Mark Humphrey / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Ira Godsy, who lives at the Knights Motel in East Nashville wades out to his car on Sunday. (John Partipilo / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Donald Sweat and Sarah Tippett take photos of a railroad bridge hit by floodwaters in Lebanon, Tenn., on Sunday. (Larry McCormack / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ray Brandon gets some possessions out of the Knights Motel in East Nashville on Sunday. (John Partipilo / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Neighbors carry Janie Cramen to an ambulance after she was rescued by boat from her West Nashville home on Sunday. (Shelley Mays / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A car sits covered with debris as it and about 20 other vehicles wait to be cleared from I-24 near Murfreesboro, Tenn., on Sunday. The wooden structure to the left is the porch of a temporary school building that floated down I-24. (Tom Stanford / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Greg Lebel tries to divert water into a flood drain so it wouldn't flood his yard in East Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday. (John Partipilo / The Tennessean) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A semi truck tries to drive past the floodwaters on Interstate 24 on Saturday in Nashville. (Larry McCormack / The Tennessean via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Raymond Alexander, in black, wades through the water to assist others who were stranded Saturday by floodwaters in Millington. (Alan Spearman / Commercial Appeal via Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
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