Saturday, November 15, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere

Carla Stewart here.

I'm a fan of mixing real life events from history with plots and characters that I make up. The technique gives verisimilitude to stories and enriches them, giving your stories "bones". It can be virtually anything, but on a recent trip with my husband, we saw the evidence of a fairly recent event that I'm sure will be the fodder for many stories in the future. I'm speaking of the Nashville flood of 2010 where the Cumberland River crested at nearly 52 feet, the highest since the 1930s. Much of Nashville had flood damage with major flood waters in the OpryLand Resort area and Grand Ole Opry House. 

Max and I took the backstage tour of the Opry, and after viewing the stars dressing rooms, we were directed to the "family room", the Opry version of television land's "green room". In this vast, comfy room, though, there is a reminder of a darker time for the Opry. Look closely on the left side of the picture. There's a dark line about halfway up that looks like a decorative element, but what it is is the line of the floodwaters that filled the Opry Hall in 2010. The factoid would make a nice addition in a story, don't you think?

This stuck with me because I had used a similar incident to the Nashville flood in the book I have coming out next summer. It's just a mention a few times in the novel of the 1927 Mississippi flood that I discovered as one of the events near the time of my story. I used it to show that ladies and church societies worked to provide relief for the victims who were not only left homeless, but had to live in deplorable conditions.

Out of curiosity, I searched for significant floods in the US over the last 100 - 150 years. Any of these would be great fodder for plot/story ideas and looking at pictures even gives more wings to the imagination. I can imagine tent cities, panic as the storms rage, families torn apart or children separated from their parents, political chaos as rebuilding begins, the nursing/care of those who are wounded (budding love affairs, anyone?), triumphant reunions for those who were thought to be lost and are found. Here are some of the more significant ones with photos:

Johnstown Flood, May 1889

House with tree through window in Johnstown, PA flood. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Place: Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 
Flood details: Ten inches of rain fell in a little less than 24 hours, causing a local dam to break. The result? A wall of water 30 feet high raced to town at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. As telephones were in their infancy, there was no warning system. 
Death Toll: More than 2,200

Galveston Hurricane, September 8, 1900

Carrying bodies of hurricane victims. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

House tilted from Galveston Hurricane. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
Place: Galveston Island which all but disappeared during the hurricane surge. 
Details: Category 4 hurricane. Storm surge of 16 feet on an island whose highest point was only nine feet. Property damage est. at $30 million.
Death toll: Estimates death range between 6,000 and 12,000 (of 40,000 Galveston inhabitants) 

The Great Flood of 1927

Cairo, Illinois highway underwater. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Oswego, KS - far from the Mississippi River but still flooded from torrential rain. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Refugees living in Tent Cities after being displaced by flood. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.
Place: along the Mississippi River at several locations. One of the most powerful natural disasters of the 1900s. Following several months of unusually heavy rain, the Mississippi spilled from her banks. It was over 80 miles wide at some locations.
Details: A levee failure at Mounds Landing, Mississippi, resulted in river flow with the force of Niagara Falls. An area the size of Connecticut was under water. Ten feet of water covered towns up to 60 miles away from the river. Even after 5 weeks, the area around Mounds Landing was covered with 100 feet of water. Affected area: 27,000 square miles (The size of New England). 
Damage: Over 130,000 homes were lost and 700,000 people were displaced. Property damage estimated at 350 million dollars (equivalent to approx. 5 billion dollars today).  
Death toll: 246

Other more recent floods include: 

Black Hills Flood, 1972

Over a six-hour period on June 9, 1972, 15 inches of rain filled Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Canyon Lake Dam was breached, flooding the town of Rapid City. 
Damage: 1,355 homes destroyed. Property damage more than $160 million
Death toll: 238 deaths, 357 injuries.

The Great Flood of 1993

For 81 consecutive days in 1993, the Mississippi River stayed at flood stage - became known as "the flood that came and stayed forever" 
Details: $15 billion in damage. Thousands of people evacuated. Flood waters covered over 17,000 square miles of normally dry land.
Death toll: 50 people

Hurricane Katrina, 2005

One of the most debilitating natural disasters to ever hit the United States, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005 and its effects are still felt, more than eight years later. More than 80 percent of New Orleans flooded, and the waters did not recede for weeks. The costliest natural disaster in U.S. history—New Orleans and the surrounding communities suffered $81 million in damages—also killed more than 1,800 people.

I'm not sure about you, but I can almost feel caked-on mud, thirst from having water all around but not knowing if it's suitable to drink, slimy crawly things in the water, and the worst agony - separation/not knowing about your loved ones. 

While I've never been in a flood and hope never to be, by taking a trip in my imagination, I can conjure up a host of story ideas replete with action and drama. 

Stay warm and dry, my friends! Next month I'll talk about something really fun! 

Chat Time: Have you ever been in a flood? Can you share your experience? Do you like to read stories that have weather/natural disasters in them?

Carla Stewart is the award-winning author of five novels. With a passion for times gone by, it is her desire to take readers back to that warm, familiar place in their hearts called “home.” Her newest release is The Hatmaker's Heart. In New York City’s Jazz Age, a na├»ve, but talented young hat designer must weigh the cost of success when the rekindled love with her childhood sweetheart is lost and her integrity in the cutthroat fashion world is tested.
Learn more about Carla at 


  1. I've never endured a flood, nor do I care to. My heart always aches for those I read about who are in danger of flooding or who have suffered loss due to one.

    The only time I've ever been affected by a flood was back in 2010 when Nashville flooded and the RWA national conference scheduled to be held there that summer had to be moved to Orlando. Our Golden Heart group that year memorialized the feeling of the Nashville residents who refused to let the flood keep them down for long. We called called ourselves The Unsinkables.

    1. I had forgotten about the RWA being moved because of the flood. Awesome that you dubbed yourselves The Unsinkables!

  2. I was Ina flood in fla, trapped in the hospital working several shifts to cover for those who could not come to work. Miraculously my car was on high enough ground. Sm. Wileygreen

    1. Oh my! What a harrowing experience. It reminded me of when I was a nurse and having to cover for people who couldn't get to work because of a blizzard. There's a special camaraderie in situations like that, isn't there?

  3. Thankfully, I have never experienced a flood situation and can only imagine the devastation of such a disaster! I do enjoy reading stories that have weather/natural disasters in them. Thank you for sharing this interesting post!

    texaggs2000 at gmail dot com

    1. Thanks, Britney. Glad for both of us that we haven't experienced a flood firsthand!

  4. Thank you for this most interesting post. Even though I have never been in a flooding situation, deep, rushing water is a force I hope I never have to face. I think stories about weather and natural disasters are quite interesting.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

  5. Thanks, Melanie, glad you enjoyed the post. You're right - the force of rushing water would be scary.

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