Hurricane Harvey: East Tennessee first responders flash back to 2010 floods

May 2010 Flood
(Photo: WKRN)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Calls for help and rushing to save families from rising water make up an all too familiar story for one East Tennessee group of first responders.

Members of the Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad rushed to help communities in Nashville facing rising floodwaters seven years ago. Cameras tagged along with specialists in swift water rescues who were making sure everyone was safe.

Seeing the images of heartache caused by Hurricane Harvey bring up memories from that weekend in May 2010. A team of eight was stationed in Cheatham County and Belle Meade helping homeowners stranded in flood water.

One homeowner got stuck in a tree after going to check on his home and losing track of his boat.

“Oh, you all just got here right in time,” he told first responders in 2010.

Capt. Matt Jenkins said Tuesday the flooding was scary because the water grew fast and unexpectedly.

“I’ve been doing this 26 years and I’ve never witnessed in my life what we saw in Nashville,” he said.

Homes, shopping centers, and cars were swallowed by water, which made navigation challenging.

“You’d have to stop and look underwater to see what road you were on and we hit something, didn’t know what it was, but we hit it. Turned out it was a fire truck,” added Capt. Jenkins.

While they saved so many people during those shifts in Middle Tennessee, Capt. Jenkins says he’ll always remember saving an 80-year-old woman who was found in chest-deep water.

“We got her, her dog, her cat and her parakeet in the boat and we’re taking them to the bank and really it was heartbreaking for me because when we got her to the bank, she grabbed my hand and said, ‘What happens to me now?’ And you really don’t know,” he said.

Working rescue missions in floodwaters comes with concerns. Crews wear dry suits to protect themselves from possible bacteria growing in the water.

“Manhole covers will actually come off so if you step into that, now you’re down in the sewer and you’re going to get swept away,” added Capt. Jenkins.

Everything their water rescue team encountered was a lesson to bring home to East Tennessee, specifically how and when to triage patients.

“It’s hard to look at somebody and say, ‘We will be back.’ That’s a difficult thing to do, but you have to do it. You’ve got to get the people that need it the worst, first and work your way back,” said Jenkins.

He says seeing the water burying the Gulf Coast is a reminder of how communities never give up.

“I think it’s natural for people to want to help and I think that’s what you’re seeing in Texas. It’s that people are really wanting to help.”

The Knoxville Volunteer Rescue Squad was on standby Monday, ready to head down to Texas to help with rescue efforts. They learned Tuesday afternoon their resources were not being requested.