Flooding strands drivers in Tennessee

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Trucks parked at Nashville TA. (Photo Todd Dills)Trucks parked at Nashville TA. (Photo Todd Dills)

Heavy rains last Friday and Saturday triggered flooding in the Southeast, killing 19, swamping freeways and stranding hundreds of truckers and other motorists.

Eleven of the deaths were reported in western and central Tennessee where the deluge closed Interstates 24, 40 and 65 in Nashville among numerous highways over the weekend. 

The situation at the downtown Nashville TravelCenters of America location was dire for truckers since early Sunday. “About 6 a.m. [Sunday],” said Roehl Transport company driver Ryan Lavengood, of Marshfield, Wis., “the northeast corner of the lot started filling up.”

“By 11 o’clock that night, the TA was filling up in the shop. And about 1 o’clock they shut it all down,” said James Williams of Tonitown, Ark., a P.A.M. Transport driver who was on his way to pick up a load in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., when he was stranded in downtown Nashville.

As early as 10 a.m. Sunday, Williams said, drivers and TA personnel were calling 911, requesting rescue assistance in the flooded lot, but removal of people from a nearby Salvation Army facility and elsewhere took priority. Drivers moved their trucks from the TA lot under the adjacent James Robertson Parkway to an empty lot nearby, where they waited out the storm and rising waters. Monday morning, said Williams, that lot was “full of trucks,” including his and Lavengood’s. 

Monday noon CDT Lavengood said, “I was supposed to be in Lakeland, Fla., at 13:15 Eastern. I’ve heard that 24 east is still shut down, though. My dispatcher told me just to stay put. There’s no sense in getting out there and not being able to go anywhere.”

The Marathon diesel terminal adjacent to the TA likewise was under water, and the entire area smelled of the fuel as hazmat teams attempted to identify leaks.

John Naff of ICS International Corporate Security, which provides security services for the Nashville TA, said West Nashville Towing was conducting hazmat operations at the TA Monday, as a WNT rep set off in a john boat to do a sweep of the trucks in the lot to double check for possibly stranded drivers then go on to recovery and securement efforts in the shop and around the submerged fuel islands.

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Naff, a southeast Nashville resident, says he’s never seen anything like it at the truck stop, just a few blocks from the Cumberland River. “They’re saying this has never happened in 130 years,” he said. “It’s all to do with the amount of rain we’ve had in the last two days.”

Police and state transportation authorities reported that 91 trucks were stranded between mile markers 192 and 196 on eastbound I-40. The truck operators were offered help to evacuate, but all 91 decided to stay with their rigs.

Today the Cumberland River was expected to crest more than 11 feet above flood stage, officials said. About 13 inches of rain fell over a two-day period late last week, setting a record for a two-day period.

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