5 killed in heavy flooding across Tennessee

Sunday, May 2, 2010 ~ Updated 8:46 AM
A stranded car sits on a flooded road on Saturday, May 1, 2010 in Franklin, Tenn. Some areas of the state had gotten up to 10 inches of rain by Saturday afternoon and more was expected, said Tennessee Emergency Management spokesman Jeremy Heidt. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- More rain and storms loomed as emergency officials in Tennessee on Sunday coped with evacuations and closed roads from heavy flooding that claimed five lives, covered city streets and left cars stranded on interstate highways turned into rivers.

A line of strong thunderstorms Saturday dumped at least 10 inches of rain on Memphis and produced tornadoes and hail along the Mississippi River Valley in Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and northward.

But rescuers could be stymied reaching all of the far-flung areas affected: The forecast called for more rain through the day Sunday.

"There's more weather coming through right on top of us," said Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

The five deaths in Tennessee were related to the storm, but the exact causes were not yet known. The Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville reported that two of the victims were swept away in a rain-swollen creek in Stewart County, about 65 miles northwest of Nashville.

They came a day after a tornado in Arkansas killed a woman and injured about two dozen people. After the worst of the rain on Saturday night, Heidt said no more fatalities had yet been reported in Tennessee.

Interstate 24 southeast of Nashville remained closed Sunday morning and likely would for some time, he said. People were urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary. About 80 guardsmen have been activated and will be deployed to the affected areas.

The southwestern part of the state was extremely hard hit, with several Memphis-area streets declared impassable. Corey Chaskelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a levee had been breached along the Big Creek River in Millington, to the north of Memphis. He said 4 to 5 feet of water had flooded 200-300 homes at the Naval Support Activity base in Millington.

Emergency officials in Shelby County said hundreds of people were being evacuated due to high water, including residents of the Navy base and inmates at a federal prison.

Bob Nations, director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, said most of the roads into and out of Millington had been cut off by flooding.

At the Baker Community Center in Millington, where a Red Cross shelter was set up, retiree Joe Curry, 74, said he and his wife were rescued from their home in a boat Saturday morning after the water had risen to 7 feet.

"It rose so fast we couldn't get out," said Curry, who spent the day at the Red Cross shelter until family members could pick him up. "It's a mess."

Erick Hooper, 19, said there was water in his living room when he woke up Saturday morning.

"It kept rising, and it was too cold to swim, so I went on the roof," he said.

Hooper spent the day on the roof of the mobile home until rescuers picked him up in a boat. A pillow and a blanket were all he managed to take with him.

Jerry Fritts of the Red Cross said about 100 people were expected to spend the night at the Millington shelter. "So many roads are blocked that some people have waited all day for their family to come get them," Fritts said.

Waters were washing away parts of roads and bridges in the Jackson area, said Marty Clements, director of the Jackson-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

"We've basically become an island because the major highways and roads are cut off," he said Saturday evening. "We can't get in or out."

Clements said there have been gas leaks and water main breaks due to the flooding and both area hospitals were running on generators temporarily during the day.

He said emergency officials have asked all events be canceled on Sunday, even church services, to keep people from trying to venture out in the floodwaters.

Charles Shannon, a spokesman for the Nashville Fire Department, said one person drowned in flood waters on Interstate 24 south of Nashville.

In Nashville, emergency responders had rescued 50 people from flooding, Mayor Karl Dean said. Police Chief Ronal Serpas said two police officers had to be rescued from a tree.

Segments of Interstate 40 were closed between Nashville and Memphis. Pooling water in the median and along the sides of the highway gave some sections the appearance of a causeway.

The National Weather Service said up to 12 inches of rain had fallen along areas of Interstate 40 since midnight and up to 6 more inches was expected through Sunday.

The same line of storms pummeled parts of Arkansas on Saturday: At least two more tornadoes touched down but no injuries or major damage was immediately reported.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe declared a state of emergency after visiting a community south of Little Rock hit hard by Friday's storms, and he was scheduled Sunday to visit heavily damaged areas north of the city.

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Associated Press Writers Kristin Hall in Nashville and Andrew Demillo in Scotland, Ark., contributed to this story.

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