What Is Our State Looking At After The Waters Recede?

Nashville is finally getting some national media attention after the flood of a half of millennium hit its streets over the weekend. Intrepid community organizers used the tools they had and thousands of people helped any way they could do help their beleaguered city. We spent much of the yesterday trying to spotlight the many voices that were talking when no one was listening outside of the state.

Floods, for those of us who’ve never experienced them, taught us many things. Rivers rising in one place are a domino effect where one metropolitian city takes the brunt and then the water recedes,  it has to go somewhere. Yesterday it moved toward Clarksville, who took their hit. On the west side of the state, Dyersburg is sitting underwater, hundreds of homes and businesses are sitting under dirty water after the Forked Deer River overflowed the banks.  Selmer, Pocahontas, Bells, Lebanon, Halls, Savannah, Madison County and others all took huge hits and other than weather radios and word of mouth, the information wasn’t instantaneous.  It was a group of determined Twitters and bloggers who propelled by sheer determination and force in the Music City to help others, get Nashville the media attention they deserved. This disaster and the stories behind each individual was powered by people’s sense of will. And, although it happened during a disaster, it was amazing to watch Twitter and Facebook become a branch of the Emergency Broadcast System. Christy Frink of the Nashvillest took a leadership role and the community surrounded her. She is getting national media attention and she deserves it. She took the ball and rolled with it.

Leaders don’t talk about leading, they lead. That’s what Christy Frink did and she did it amazingly. Blogging is not Christy’s day job. She saw her community drowning and took action. That is leadership, my friends.

New and very real problems are beginning to surface. That’s not going to happen elsewhere to that degree in smaller areas for the mere fact that online knowledge and communication is more scarce.

We are going to hear more about loss of life and property all over the state. Steve Ross and I discussed at length yesterday that the social media explosion that occurred in Nashville won’t happen in rural areas, where broadband access is sketchy or in many areas do not exist. Watching friends in Nashville use their cell phones requesting for help or monitoring it and sharing information isn’t going to happen in areas where technology, although being pursued, hasn’t fully arrived yet. How many elderly people do you know that have a cell phone?

Millington this morning is starting to discuss in the Commercial Appeal, that now that the waters are receding the county is starting to move into clean-up and then will  head into the assessing the economic damage it is facing.

And let’s look at the things we do know that will need money to fix all over the state with a focus on rural communities:

  • Water systems from Memphis to Lebanon took on damage that was unbelievable. (I do know that if I lived in Nashville and saw someone washing their car, I would most likely neck punch them.) Water was at 37% last night but has been restored to 50 % this morning. Water conservation is absolutely crucial right now. You can live without a shower although you might now want to, but you have to have water to drink.  I have not heard reports from other communities but as toxic as the water appeared to be, I am reasonably sure that this is happening other places as well. Lexington and Trenton took hard hits on Sunday and Monday on this very issue.
  • When businesses are destroyed or damage, we are looking at some of them that are going to rebuild, and others already desecrated by the recession that will not reopen. It’s a reality. The floods may have been the last straw. This is, of course, speculative but I believe I’m right on this. The last straw especially in areas suffering 10+ unemployment. These numbers will be largely unknown for a long time.
  • Crop Damage – Seed is gone. Fields will have to be replanted. Much of the farmland in nw Tennessee is sitting under several feet of water so they will have to dry. The long-term implications also mirror last year to a degree when farming was delayed due to heavy rainfall. By season’s end, it was hard to find the train support for crops to be transported because the usual shuffled time of harvest came in at once. It was finally handled but at the time it was a nightmare.
  • Our government is going to have to make quick decisions on where federal aid goes. Nashville’s tourism business had enormous damages which is an economic stronghold for the state. The naval base at Millington was damaged. But once we move from the larger issues, what about homes? Mom and Pop businesses. These are decisions that no one on a good day wants to make.
  • FaintGrayLines, from Nashville, and I have been talking regularly and she made an observation of what she was witnessing. Our first responders and civil service workers all over the state have been working nonstop. On a short-term basis, they are exhausted and clean up has barely begun. These efforts aren’t going to take just a couple of days, they are going to take weeks. “Trace, I’ve seen guys with a thousand mile stare,” she said on the phone yesterday.” Not only are we looking at emotional and physical fatigue which is most likely aligned with shock after the disaster, but we are looking at the work they must do that will continue into the future. We are looking at the human cost, plus playing these fine people, over time.
  • In Cheatham County, A.O. Smith is underwater and schools are destroyed. A.O. Smith is Cheatham County’s largest employers and workers come from Montgomery and Dickson counties. If the building is inoperable, how are people going to work? They aren’t the only industry, but not only are we looking at lost homes and businesses, we may be looking at loss of wages.

These are just initial observations because our state has never had anything like this happen in several generations, days before we could Tweet about our experiences or share news stories on Facebook.

We are in a natural disaster and even the most seasoned leaders are dealing with the unknown.

Nate Baker said it best. The thing we must do now is breathe. This is our state’s reality right now.  This is a marathon and not a sprint. We have to take care of each other, and just as importantly, ourselves as we deal with this disaster.

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