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'Flood mud' in Bellevue

Nashville Presbyterians turn out to aid storm clean-up effort

May 6, 2010

Joe Cowden’s ruined furnishings are piled outside his house in the River Plantation section of Nashville.

Nashville

After the historic flooding here last weekend, clean-up has begun.

Walking through the hardest hit areas of this city, the acrid smell of "flood mud" — a combination of mud mixed with garbage and toxins — is everywhere. The smell may be ugly but the sight of victims’ possessions piled all around is heartrending.

Flooded Nashvillians are not without help, however. Neighborhoods are crawling with volunteers and the Red Cross reports astonishment at the turnout of helpers which, according to them, is well above average. Yet more are needed and will be needed for months.

Bellevue Presbyterian Church is in one of the most devastated areas of the city. Because the building sits up on a hill it sustained little damage. Church members were not as fortunate. The congregation, though, has responded in droves.

Using facebook, email and text messaging, the Rev. Kristi Moore has an organized flock. As early as 8 o'clock Sunday morning she began getting messages about conditions in Bellevue. Messages from church members telling her that water was creeping toward their house or that they were trapped by rising floodwaters.

One member trapped by the rising Harpeth River is Virginia Griffin. In her 80s, Virginia became trapped on the second floor of her home in the River Plantation neighborhood of Bellevue, a Nashville suburb.

She used the cushion from her chair as a flotation device and was rescued at about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon after spending hours waiting for help. She was taken from her home by boat to dry ground and stayed that night with fellow Bellevue (BPC) church members Buddy and Marietta Cook.

Another Bellevue member, Joe Cowden, is a River Plantation resident. On the board of section VII of the development, he reports that all 156 units of that section were flooded. He worked with other board members, going door to door, early on that morning of May 2, urging residents to evacuate. "The water just came up so very fast, you could stand there and watch it rising," Joe recalled.

Joe and his wife, Linda, moved to River Plantation in 2001. She died in their home of cancer in 2004. Sorting through his flood damaged possessions filled him with memories of the years they shared. "I was handling it pretty well until I found her ruined cookbook with her handwritten notes in it," said Joe.

Faced with the monumental task of cleaning up, Joe hardly knew where to begin. "Then all these Presbyterians started showing up to help me," he said. They began work on Tuesday and about ten of them were still there late Wednesday, dragging the ruined furniture from his home and tearing out the soaked carpeting. It will take him close to a year to rebuild.

Bellevue church is at it again today (Thursday), sending out information on their facebook page with instructions on where to go, what to wear, supplies to bring. The page is updated throughout the day with other families in need: the Bartels, the Scheetzes, Jenny Thygard.

Volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, Tenn. will join the efforts of BPC today, working beside them, tearing out carpeting and sheetrock, finding a place to trash  ruined appliances, all while wearing ventilation masks to protect them from the toxins and grateful to be of help after watching all the devastation.

The Presbytery of Middle Tennessee is accepting donations for flood relief. Please send gifts to the presbytery, 318 Seaboard Lane, Ste. 205, Franklin, Tenn. 37067 with "flood relief" written in the memo line.

Middle Tennessee Executive Presbyter Phil Leftwich said the flooding is probably not over yet. The presbytery is in contact with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. A PDA National Response Team will visit the area as soon as the water recedes and readier access is possible.

Janet Tuck is communications director for the Synod of Living Waters and a frequent contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

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