Not All Tennessee Flood Victims Are in Nashville

July 8, 2010

Far from the spotlight shining on the Nashville victims of May’s deadly floods, Mike Anglin looks at the now-empty space next to Indian Creek where his doublewide mobile home stood and wonders how he will replace it.

The Hickman County resident was within three years of paying off the home when floodwaters picked it up, spun it around and dumped it next to some trees on the edge of his property. The home was wrecked and most everything inside was ruined.

Terry Work, director of the nonprofit Helping Hands of Hickman County, said she’s trying to find help for people like Anglin, but it’s a struggle.

“I wish we could get some country music artist to do a concert for us,” she said. “They raised all this money but they’re just keeping it in Nashville.”

Nashville was the municipality that was hardest hit by the flooding that killed 22 people in Middle and West Tennessee. Officials still have not released an estimate on the total damage to the city, but it tops $2 billion. Ten people died during the floods. And at last count, FEMA had received more than 22,000 applications for assistance in Davidson County.

That’s compared to just 1 death in Hickman County and 1,356 applications for assistance. But with a population of only about 24,000 (to Nashville’s more than 626,000), Hickman likely has more victims per capita. And it has fewer resources to deal with the aftermath.

One of the main nonprofits distributing flood relief grants in the area is The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. It has two disaster funds. One that serves Nashville has raised $1.57 million and given out $701,00 in grants. A second fund that serves all 40 counties of Middle Tennessee has taken in $2.7 million and given out $723,400 in grants. So far Hickman County churches and nonprofits have received $25,000 of that. Helping Hands got $10,000, but Work says that won’t go far.

Anglin, 51, says he received the maximum grant from FEMA, $29,900, but doesn’t know if that will be enough to replace what he’s lost. Someone claiming to be from FEMA told him he had to use the money to pay off his home loan and he gave the bank $8,000 before he realized that was a scam, he said. And now the county wants him to build up the land before putting a new trailer there.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can come up with the money to do this,” Anglin said. He said he hasn’t been able to work as an auto mechanic since he went into the hospital a year ago with his carotid arteries blocked. His wife is currently recovering from open-heart surgery in the small camper he is buying for a temporary home.

He pulls photographs out of his truck showing his former home pinned against trees, its tidy curtains still hanging in the window. Another photo shows the inside of the mobile home, a thick layer of muck covering the floor and furniture and going about halfway up the walls.

About 100 feet away, the lazy, inches-deep Indian Creek meanders by. It’s hard to imagine this tiny stream could turn into a torrent big enough to lift a mobile home. But little bodies of water like this all over Hickman County flooded homes and tore up roads and bridges after more than 15 inches of rain dumped on the county seat of Centerville over May 1 and May 2.

“Every road you drive down, there’s a creek,” Work said. “We’ve got one road called 13 Creek Road because you cross the creek 13 times.”

County Mayor Steve Gregory says that for several days after the flood, every state road leading out of the county was impassable and all cell phone and radio service was down.

“We were like an island,” he says.

Things are better now. Water service is back and many of the roads and bridges have been at least temporarily patched up. But two months after the flood, a number of people are still in trailers, tents and even a barn.

That last one is not as bad as it sounds. Two stalls of the barn have been made into an efficiency apartment that is nice, if a little small for four people. Andy Plank lives there with his wife, daughter and brother-in-law after his home was destroyed by the Piney River.

He said he has been overwhelmed by the help his family has received. Pointing to a shelf in the tiny kitchen big enough to fit one person, he jokes, “We’ve got spam and chicken broth for days.”

Plank works as a manager at a Nashville Burger King, but he’s also a preacher at the Buffalo Baptist Church in Hurricane Mills. In the later role, he says he’s been getting a lot of questions from people about why God let the flood destroy their homes.

Asked how he answers, he says he reminds people that if they still have their families, character and faith, they haven’t lost anything that can’t be replaced. And the loss helps them appreciate what is really important in life.

The flood also has another bright side for Plank. It dug out some deep fishing holes right behind his house.

Smiling, he says, “I caught two smallmouth bass there the other day.”

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