Opryland damage estimates at least $50M - WKRN News 2

Opryland damage estimates at least $50M

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The top man at the Opryland Resort and Hotel said he feared another "Katrina" last weekend when he heard the nearby levees on the Cumberland River might break.

The statement came during a wide-ranging news conference Friday from Colin Reed, the CEO of the hotel and Opry's owner, Gaylord Entertainment.

He addressed the past, present and future of the devastating floods last weekend that severely damaged the Opryland Hotel and Grand Ole Opry House, two landmark facilities.

"The suddenness of this event and its immediate consequences and the city is quite astounding," Reed told a group ranging from locals to network reporters.

"Our company plans to do whatever it can to restore the great assets of this company to the form they were once in," Reed continued.

He would not speculate on a damage total but said, "I don't know if it will be $50 million or $100 million."

The CEO was joined by Gaylord's Chief Operating Officer Dave Kloeppel.

He told the gathering, "The most heartbreaking thing is you walk into these buildings and the soul has been taken out of them because there are no customers, no stars, no joy [and] no music playing in the Grand Ole Opry."

Kloeppel detailed damage to the Opry House which he said at one point Monday had two feet of water above the famous stage.

"We have a nice film of mud across the top of the stage," said Kloeppel.

"We are in there right now recovering archives we had in the Opry House and other places on the property, and we are optimistic damage not as bad as feared," added Reed.

He did, however, indicate some historic recordings may be lost.

Both men praised quick action by workers to save what they could from the historic venue before the floodwaters hit.

Gaylord officials described "a small army of people" and equipment cleaning up the hotel area with things like giant humidifiers to keep the vast number of undamaged hotel free of stagnant damp air.

The CEO twice referenced information from Metro emergency officials that it had received from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the critical hours before the flooding.

"We were told the river would crest two feet below our levees," said Reed.

He said his people indicated late Sunday the water was higher than that and still rising so the decision was made to evacuate over 1,500 people to nearby McGavock High School.

The Corps has received criticism this week from the likes of Tennessee's U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.

There are lots of questions about the Corp's predictions, communication and whether or not too much water was released too late from nearby Old Hickory and Percy Priest reservoirs.

The Corps believes its actions did not contribute to the flooding, but kept the water from being even higher and the dams under control.

"At the appropriate time we will look as to the reason why [the flood] happened, this is not the time to get into a debate about whether or not we had accurate information or not," Reed said.

He did detail how critical decisions were made with Gaylord about evacuating as rains kept falling and the river kept rising.

He feared what happened with Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans during a brief conversation with his security people.

"I said we are not going to have that situation here," Reed said.  "God forbid if these levees break, or something like that we have got to put our safety first."

The flooding interrupted a quiet U.S. Defense Department conference at the hotel that may have left some sensitive information behind.

Included in the group were a few three-star generals who had to spend the night at McGavock High.

"I have personally received several letters from that organization thanking us for what you did," Reed said.

"There was sensitive information, has it been retrieved?" asked Reed in response to a question as he called up Gaylord Opryland Resort GM Pete Weien.

"We have been in constant contact with that group," said Weien, without specifically referencing the Defense Department group.  "There has been no access to that area yet, they have outlined a list of things they are looking for."

Weien continued, "We don't know what's in them, but they have identified certain containers of packing materials.  We have not been into those exhibit hall areas so we don't know if they are there."

The company's top men said their 4,000-workers would be receiving six-weeks of salary and benefits while cleanup companies dry out the facilities and contractors assess repairs.

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