Rescuers using boats and Jet Skis plucked stranded residents from their flooded homes on Monday, as the death toll from the weekend storms climbed to at least 29 in Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.
Muddy waters poured over the banks of Nashville's swollen Cumberland River on Monday, spilling into Music City's historic downtown streets.
The flash floods caused by record-breaking rain caught many there off-guard, forcing thousands to flee their homes and hotels. The rapidly rising waters killed 18 people in Tennessee alone, including 10 in Nashville, and officials feared that the death toll could increase.
Though the historic Ryman Auditorium — the former home of the Grand Ole Opry — and the recording studios of Music Row were not in immediate danger, parts of other top Nashville tourist spots including the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry House were flooded.
Authorities closed off streets in downtown Nashville with the Cumberland River forecast to crest as early as Monday night at about 3.6 metres above flood stage after weekend storms dumped more than 33 centimetres of rain in two days.
Though the rain stopped falling on Monday, the river continued to rise, and authorities and volunteers in fishing boats, an amphibious tour bus and a canoe scooped up about 500 trapped vacationers at the Wyndham Resort along the river near Opryland.
Rescuers had to steer through a maze of underwater hazards, including submerged cars, some with their tops barely visible above floodwaters the colour of milk chocolate.
Jim Moser, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Nashville, said a slow-moving weather system pumped up Gulf of Mexico moisture into highly unstable air over Tennessee. The result was strong storms dumping heavy rains that caught most of the city and surrounding area by surprise.
The weekend storms also killed six people in Mississippi and four in Kentucky, including one man whose truck ran off the road and into a flooded creek. One person was also killed by a tornado in western Tennessee.