U.S. Corps of Engineers says it kept flood crest 5 feet lower
Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010 8:05 pm
NASHVILLE (AP) — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has concluded its actions during the May floods reduced the Cumberland River’s flood crest in Nashville by 5 feet, but the agency suffered numerous communications problems during the crisis, according to a report released Wednesday.
The corps and National Weather Service have been criticized for not providing the public enough warning about the severity of the floods that killed 22 people in Tennessee and caused over $2 billion in damage in Nashville alone. Record two-day rains swelled the Cumberland River and caused it to crest at 51.86 feet on May 3.
“At the height of the event, Corps personnel were making minute-by-minute decisions for the operation of eight projects in an extremely dynamic and dangerous environment,” the 300-page “After Action Review” says.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is convening a hearing on Thursday to probe the Corps’ actions during the flood. Among those testifying will be Gen. John Peabody, the corps’s Commander of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division.
Also scheduled to testify is U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-5th, who was critical of the preliminary report.
In a news release, Cooper said “the Corps makes some additional mistakes in the report itself,” including a statement in the report that “Metro Center” had been flooded.
Cooper said the office park and commercial center did not flood.
“How could the Corps not know what happened to such an important part of our city andour region’s economy?” he said.
The report identified serious communication problems inside the corps.
An e-mail from the Nashville office sent before the floods about what it was doing to prepare was overlooked, “resulting in slower communication up the chain of command regarding the potential severity of the event,” the report said. There was no policy to follow up with a phone call.
Early on, internal communications were poor, in part because a logistics office in the Memphis area was displaced by flooding there.
When the Nashville office lost its Internet service, it also lost the ability to electronically analyze data about the reservoirs that was being collected by hand.
The report also said river gauge information collected by the U.S. Geological Survey wasn’t available because the Nashville corps office left a cooperative program five years ago.
Budget decisions may have reduced river gauge maintenance.
The office was understaffed because it was the weekend and once the weather turned bad many workers couldn’t get back into the office, the report said. Calls from the public sometimes took the limited staff away from dealing with operations.
Published in The Messenger 7.22.10