NASHVILLE -- Muddy water poured over the banks of Nashville's swollen Cumberland River on Monday, flooding neighborhoods and parts of the historic heart of Music City after a destructive line of weekend storms killed 28 people in Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky.
The flash floods caught the city off guard, and thousands of residents and tourists were forced to flee. Authorities used motorboats and personal watercraft to rescue residents who had been trapped in their homes. The rapidly rising waters led to the deaths of 17 people in Tennessee, including 10 in Nashville, and officials feared that the death toll could increase.
Country music's landmark, the Grand Ole Opry House, was flooded with several feet of water, and at least 10 feet of water flooded the nearby Gaylord Opryland Hotel complex, indefinitely shutting down one of the nation's largest hotel and convention centers. The historic Ryman Auditorium -- the former home of the Grand Ole Opry -- and the recording studios of Music Row were not in immediate danger.
Downtown was nearly deserted after authorities evacuated the area. Floodwater spilled into some streets near the riverfront, and restaurants and bars were closed. Water filled the basement of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center where pianos were stored and seeped into a mechanical room in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
"It's shocking to see it this way, but it was an incredible storm," Mayor Karl Dean said as he surveyed the flooding on Monday.
Gov. Phil Bredesen declared 52 of Tennessee's 95 counties as disaster areas after finishing an aerial tour.
The swollen Cumberland River crested Monday evening at nearly 12 feet above flood stage in Nashville and was not expected to drop below its flood stage of 40 feet until Wednesday morning, National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Rose said.
Thousands of people took refuge in emergency shelters, including about 1,500 guests at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel who spent Sunday night at a high school to escape the flooding.
German tourists Gerdi and Kurt Bauerle, both 70, said resort staff suddenly started rushing people out of the area Sunday night. "We had just finished eating and suddenly they said: 'Go! Go! Go!' " said Gerdi Bauerle, who was visiting from Munich.
Officials said about 50 Nashville schools were damaged. Floodwaters swallowed up hundreds of homes, including 45-year-old Lisa Blackmon's in the suburb of Bellevue on the west side of Nashville. Blackmon said she had no flood insurance and had lost her job at a trucking company in December.
"I know God doesn't give us more than we can take," she said. "But I'm at my breaking point."
The Cumberland flooded quickly after the weekend's storms dumped more than 13 inches of rain in Nashville over two days. The rain ended Monday but there will probably be weeks of cleanup.