Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gaylord Opryland: 24 hours of destruction

• 10:32 a.m.: At his Oak Hill home, Gaylord CEO and Chairman Colin Reed gets an e-mail from his head of security. The Cumberland River is rising, but it's projected to crest 3 feet below levees protecting the hotel. Rain should stop by mid-afternoon; everything seems fine.
It's the first of five e-mails Reed will receive within an eight-hour span updating river conditions. Each one shows a higher crest, but none shows floodwaters topping the levees.

• 6:32 p.m.: The final e-mail arrives. An official forecast shows the river will crest 2 feet below the top of the levee nearest Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

• 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Reed sends two hotel executives to check the levee. They report back: Water is 12 inches from spilling over the top.

RelatedDespite forecasts, Opryland CEO evacuates guests just in time

• 7 p.m.: On a call with Reed, hotel Senior Vice President and General Manager Peter Weien recommends guests assemble in the Presidential Ballroom, the highest large space in the hotel. Water is 6 to 9 inches from the top of the levee.

• 8 p.m.: On a conference call with Reed and corporate executives, Weien recommends evacuation of 1,500 hotel guests and hundreds of employees. Reed decides to evacuate. "There was no hesitation," he says later. "I didn't want a replay of New Orleans after Katrina."

• 8:15 p.m.: Reed calls Steve Buchanan, president of the Grand Ole Opry division, and tells him to get out of the theater. Buchanan and others abandon a three-hour effort to move precious Opry memorabilia and tapes to safety. Still, much is saved.

• 9 p.m.: Corporate executives trickle into headquarters, about 2 miles from the hotel. Reed asks Weien to rescue country great Roy Acuff's gun collection from the hotel.

• 9:30 p.m.: Hotel evacuation wraps up; before locking the place down, security double-checks each guest room; they find one woman asleep in her bed oblivious to the commotion. Another guest is discovered hiding in a closet hoping to avoid evacuation.

• 10 p.m.: Reed goes to McGavock High School, where guests are sheltered. Senior executives bring the evacuees pillows and water. Pizza and doughnuts come later.

• 11 p.m.: Gaylord security spots small amounts of floodwater breaching the levee.

• Midnight: The Cumberland cascades over the levee, heading toward Gaylord Opryland.


• 1 a.m.: Floodwaters reach the front of the hotel.

• 3 a.m.: Parts of the hotel have taken on 4 to 6 feet of water.

• 5 a.m.: Reed gazes at the rain-swollen Cumberland from huge bay windows in his headquarters office. "This could be a long time, and this could be very bad," he thinks.

• 10 a.m.: Water as deep as 10 feet fills parts of the hotel.


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