NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The owner of country music's Grand Ole Opry sued the U.S. government on Monday, accusing two federal agencies of turning the 2010 flood that struck Nashville into a man-made catastrophe.
Gaylord Entertainment was joined in the lawsuit by A.O. Smith, the Wisconsin-based water-heater manufacturer that saw one of its plants along the Cumberland River inundated in the May 2010 flood. Their lawsuit names the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service, which have acknowledged that a lack of communication undercut flood warnings.
"It is a simple fact that we incurred millions of dollars in damages because the Corps released so much water into the Cumberland River that it rose above the 100-year flood plain," the companies said in a joint statement. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders to seek remuneration for the losses we sustained as a result of this negligence, and also to ensure that both parties make significant process improvements to prevent a man-made disaster from occurring in any future flood event."
The Cumberland eventually crested at nearly 52 feet in downtown Nashville, almost 12 feet over flood stage and about 10 feet higher than forecast. The flooding killed 11 people in the city and inflicted more than $2 billion in damages, with another 15 people killed in the surrounding region.
The Corps of Engineers referred questions about the lawsuit to the U.S. attorney's office in Nashville, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The A.O. Smith plant in the Nashville suburb of Ashland City was covered in mud and silt after the flooding, with the company estimating its losses at $76 million. Meanwhile, Gaylord says the famous Opry House and its Opryland hotel and resort took as much as a $250 million hit from the flooding.
The lawsuit argues that the Corps "repeatedly provided incorrect and inaccurate information" to the Weather Service, which issued flood warnings for the Cumberland River. The suit accuses the Weather Service of knowingly using outdated information from the Corps in preparing those forecasts.
In a January 2011 report on the disaster, the Weather Service found that the Corps was forced to increase the flow of water from a dam on the Cumberland River amid record rainfalls over Nashville and the surrounding region on May 2. But forecasters weren't told about the additional releases, and the Cumberland passed its predicted crest of 41.9 feet within two hours of their advisory, the report stated.
In its own assessment, the Corps of Engineers acknowledged that "misunderstandings" between its Nashville district office and the Weather Service threw off forecasts "to some degree."