Heavy rainfall on Saturday night that continued into Sunday morning flooded roads and neighborhoods, prompting dozens of rescues. Flash flood warnings were still in effect on Sunday for parts of Middle Tennessee.
Heavy rainfall on Saturday night that continued into Sunday morning flooded roads and neighborhoods, prompting dozens of rescues. Flash flood warnings were still in effect on Sunday for parts of Middle Tennessee.CreditCredit…Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean, via Associated Press

NASHVILLE — Unrelenting rainfall in Nashville turned roads to rapids, sweeping vehicles off the streets and drowning a motorist who was carried away, one of at least four people killed during a storm that continued to threaten the city on Sunday, the authorities said.

The water also gushed through neighborhoods, flooding houses and stranding dozens of people who needed to be rescued. And even after the rain stopped, officials urged residents to remain vigilant, as the rivers and creeks coursing through Nashville continued to rise and were not expected to crest until late Sunday or early Monday.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Chief John Drake of the Nashville Police Department said during a news conference on Sunday. “We still have to pay attention to it.”

Flash flood warnings continued into Sunday for a stretch of Middle Tennessee after just over seven inches of rain had fallen in some parts of the region. It was the second-highest two-day rainfall in Nashville’s recorded history.

The pounding rain and climbing water rekindled for many the agonizing memories of a flood in 2010 that was among the worst in the city’s history, as 13 inches of rain fell over 36 hours, leaving 26 people dead and destruction that took months to clean up.

City officials said the enduring lessons from that flood informed the response this weekend, as the previous event had led to improved communications systems and the bolstering of the Fire Department’s swift water rescue capabilities.

The Fire Department rescued at least 130 people from automobiles, apartments and houses, including 27 swift water rescues, emergency officials said.

In one call, the Fire Department responded to reports of a collapsed building and instead found that rainfall had loosened the soil enough to cause a mudslide, trapping at least 15 people whom rescuers picked up by boat. Rescuers also saved 40 dogs at a boarding facility next to a creek in the south end of the city.

A 70-year-old man was found dead in his car, the police said, after it had been submerged in water that spilled over from a creek near a typically busy intersection with stores and fast-food restaurants. In a nearby wooded area, a 46-year-old woman and a 64-year-old man were found dead in a homeless encampment, the police said.

The body of a 65-year-old man was also found on a golf course near J. Percy Priest Lake, a reservoir along the eastern edge of the city, according to the police, who said it appeared that he had been swept away by high water after getting out of a car that had run into a culvert.

Search and rescue efforts continued on Sunday, the authorities said, as water levels kept rising. The Cumberland River, which snakes through Nashville, climbed to flood stage on Sunday afternoon and was expected to peak just after midnight Monday morning at nearly 42 feet, which is roughly 10 feet shy of the highest levels reached during the 2010 flood.

The flooding follows days of strong winds and rain that swept through Nashville last week as powerful thunderstorms barraged a swath of the Southeast. The storms pelted Nashville with hail, uprooted trees and knocked out electricity. Yet the city was spared the worst of the devastation, as the storms unleashed tornadoes that shredded through communities in Alabama and Georgia, killing at least six people.

Still, the flooding has presented yet another challenge for Nashville, and what some saw as another test of its resilience.

Beyond the specter of the 2010 floods, Nashville is also still rebuilding from a deadly tornado a year ago that mangled parts of the city that had been the epicenter of its recent boom. It is also clawing its way back from a man-made disaster, as a man bent on destruction detonated an R.V. filled with explosives on Christmas morning, killing himself, leveling or severely damaging a strip of downtown buildings, and disrupting telecommunications across the region for days.

In the news conference on Sunday, Nashville’s mayor, John Cooper, said that city officials would have to examine the influence of climate change and whether major floods had become not “once-in-a-lifetime but once-in-a-decade kinds of events.”

“It’s an unexpected, uneven event,” Mr. Cooper said of the flood, describing fast-changing forecasts and the difficulty in anticipating which creeks would get the most water. Even so, he added, “We will learn from this.”

New York Times