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Hotel Company Sues Government Over Tenn. Flooding

April 30, 2012

By Sheila, Burke, The Associated Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Gaylord Entertainment Co. filed a lawsuit Monday accusing the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of negligence that heavily damaged its luxury hotel in Nashville and the famous Grand Ole Opry House during flooding in 2010.

The company says it sustained more than $250 million in damages at several of its businesses from flooding of the Cumberland River that could have been avoided had the Corps of Engineers opened up a spillway sooner to relieve a swollen reservoir.

The historic flooding left 26 people dead, including 11 in Nashville, and caused an estimated $2 billion worth of damage when it rained 13.5 inches over two days.

The company claims that because of poor planning combined with multiple failures, the Corps of Engineers didn`t create enough storage capacity for water even when very heavy rainfall was predicted. As a result, the Old Hickory reservoir swelled and threatened to rise over the top of its dam. It was the sudden release of water by the corps to prevent the overtopping that was to blame, the company claims.

The lawsuit refers to the so-called 100-year flood plain, which maps the area that could be affected by the type of flooding that statistically can be expected to happen once in a century.

"The May 2010 storm event should have been an endurable, natural event at or below the 100-year flood plain," the lawsuit said. "Instead, defendant created a man-made flood above the 100-year flood plain."

Gaylord also claims the Weather Service failed to warn the public of the severity of flooding.

The lawsuit is being defended by the U.S. Department of Justice. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney`s office in Nashville declined to comment.

Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, which is a cornerstone of the city`s tourism business, was under water during the flooding and guests at the hotel had to be evacuated. Known for its indoor waterfalls and garden-filled atriums, has 2,881 guest rooms and bills itself as the largest non-gaming hotel in the continental United States. It was closed for six months.

The Grand Ole Opry House, where the popular country music show is held during the tourist season, also sustained major damage.

Both agencies have previously acknowledged a critical breakdown in communication between the Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service during the crisis.

A.O. Smith, an Ashland City-based commercial water heater manufacturing company, joined Gaylord in the lawsuit. The company says the flooding caused about $76 million worth of damage.

Bob Patterson, an attorney who represents Gaylord, said it would be difficult to fight the government. Gaylord and A.O. Smith are suing on the same grounds that many of the victims of Hurricane Katrina have used to sue.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Story Image: A River Plantation in Nashville, Tenn., is seen surrounded by floodwater in early May 2010. (Donna Esstman, WeatherBug user)

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