After The Flood: Nashville’s Rebuilt Gaylord Opryland Hotel

A few days after I explored vibrant post-flood New Orleans, reborn and bustling in the wake of the storm nobody’s forgotten, I found myself in the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, the largest non-casino hotel in the country.

It’s home to the famed Grand Ole Opry, the shrine of country music, and sits along the Cumberland River, which poured over its banks last year, flooding the city and causing more than a billion dollars of damage in an event so severe it’s forecast to happen only once every thousand years.

More than nine inches of rain fell on Nashville in 24 hours. By May 3, 2010, the hotel was no longer on the banks of the river. It was in the river.


This July, in the vast lobby of the Opryland, I met Jenny Barker, the resort’s PR director. She pointed out the huge chandeliers, hanging about 10 feet above the floor. If these new fixtures had been here during the flood, she says, they would’ve been submerged.

Built in stages since 1977, when it opened with 601 rooms and a single ballroom, the hotel is an adventure in monumental proportion, even more so when seen through the lens of recovery from the disaster. Among other features, the Opryland has a quarter-mile-long artificial river, nine acres of tropical botanical gardens, dozens of waterfalls, thousands of rooms, restaurants of every stripe, more than 600,000 square feet of meeting space. It takes 3,600 employees to run the place, including the musician who valeted my car on check-in. Turns out he’s a friend of a friend of a friend.

The size of the hotel is so staggering–and so confusing upon arrival–that the hotel prints out maps for guests, directing them to their rooms. Carpeting is color-coded to help with way finding. I knew I was close to my room, in the Delta wing, when the green flooring gave way to red, indicating elevator bank D1 would be right around the corner. To make a phone call to another room, you have to press six numbers.

Oddly, my room had a balcony, indoors but overlooking the artificial river and a New Orleans-themed public space called Delta Island. The sun streamed in through a glass canopy, and the stillness of the air gave the feeling of being encased in some elaborate biodome. I was five miles from downtown Nashville, but it might as well have been on another planet.

The flood of 2010 reminded everyone that Opryland is just as real and as fragile as the rest of the rest of the city. Employees rounded up about 1,500 guests for evacuations and the hotel, like many businesses in the city, was shuttered.

Amazingly, the entire hotel opened just 195 days after 71.3 million gallons of water were pumped out of mechanical closets, underground passageways, atriums and the 115 guest rooms that were flooded. (Most guest rooms were not inundated.) In addition to repairs, the property used the flood-forced closure to carry out renovations. Again, the statistics are mind boggling: nearly 281,000 square feet of carpeting were replaced and more than a million drywall screws turned.

The rebuild also allowed Opryland to address environmental concerns. The resort modernized its laundry plant to consume less water and set goals to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent by 2015. Future additions–not an unlikely prospect given the expansionary history here–will pursue LEED certification.

It’s not all wonky either: This winter, a partnership with DreamWorks will bring characters from the Madagascar movie franchise to the hotel for a Christmas program, November 18 through January 8. Unsurprisingly, the show will involve an unbelievably large volume of ice: 2 million pounds of the stuff will be carved for the event.

Katrina exhibit opens in New Orleans

It was the most catastrophic event in New Orleans history. Hurricane Katrina destroyed large swathes of the city and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Now the Louisiana State Museum has opened an exhibit chronicling the natural disasters that have visited New Orleans, culminating in the most recent and worst.

Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond, a 6,700 square-foot multimedia exhibition, opened this week. The show traces the history of the city’s relationship to the elements and explores how such disasters can be averted in the future. Interactive displays show how hurricanes form, why they are so prevalent in the Gulf, and how Katrina broke the levees and caused such widespread destruction.

Many individual stories are told, like that of Ken Ballau, who used his boat to rescue four hundred stranded civilians. His boat is part of the display. Claudio Hemb’s jeans are exhibited too. Thinking he was going to die, Hemb wrote his and his wife’s names, her phone number in Houston, his social security number and blood type on his pants so his body could be identified and his wife informed.

The museum hopes the exhibit will act as a catharsis for New Orleans residents, as well as educational for the thousands of out-of-towners who visit the museum every year.

[Image courtesy U.S. Coast Guard]

Survival guide app

No one likes to think of the bad things that could happen on a trip. But what would you do if you survived a plane crash, were caught in a terrorist attack, or encountered a tsunami while on vacation? Well wonder no more iphone users. The SAS Survival Guide has been around in book form for over twenty years but now there’s an app.

John “Lofty” Wiseman spent years as a soldier and instructor for the SAS, an elite British fighting unit. In the app, Lofty guides the reader through a myriad of nightmare scenarios. Stranded atop an icy mountain? Covered. Need to know what local plants are edible? Check. Stuck in a forest fire with no obvious escape? No worries. The guide provides detailed information on all these would-be disasters. The app will cost $6.99 at itunes and is compatible with the ipad and ipod touch as well.

Although the guide is a great read, and the bulit-in survival quiz is fun for parties and around the campfire, the practicality of using it on-demand in some of these situations is questionable. For instance, if your plane were to crash land in the ocean your cell phone would be wet and useless. Then what? You are stranded on a mountaintop in the Himalaya and your phone runs out of battery. Tough luck. To get the most out of the guide read it before the disaster strikes.

The app holds interest by utilizing several interactive features including the survival quiz, an instructional video, and even a morse code feature that will turn your iphone into a beeping/flashing communicator. These make it fun for the user to learn a bit more about surviving if and when disaster strikes. That can’t be a bad thing when the shit hits the fan.

How safe is your in-flight entertainment? Possibly, not very.

There you are on your international flight flipping through the channels of your in-flight offerings. A movie? Music? TV? games? Movie then music? Music than movie? Parts of different movies? It’s remote heaven.

The problem with all that bounty is the power that allows it to happen. All those electronics generate enough heat to make an armrest reach 100 to 115 degrees–even when the in-flight system is not in use. Think of all those screens and all those armrests and all that wiring.

According to some experts and the people who maintain airplanes’ electrical systems, there are safety issues to think about. In-flight systems are disasters waiting to happen.

Reading this article in USA Today with this disasters waiting to happen news brought up images of an electrical strip with every gadget imaginable plugged into it. It seems to me there must be some way to install a switch that would break a circuit if one part of the system got too hot–sort of how a fuse works.

I’m not sure if I should worry or not when I settle in my seat this summer as I wing my way from Columbus to Venice. I’ll probably be too excited channel surfing to wonder if my arm rest is getting too hot. If I see smoke, I’ll tell the flight attendant and look for something to smother the flames just in case. [photo by davitydave]

Breaking: Yet another plane crash. This time near Amsterdam

I have to say, as much as flying does not bother me, it’s a bit unnerving to click on The New York Times to see if any thing new has happened in the past few hours to find out that the new thing that has happened is another plane crash. This time the crash was just outside Amsterdam, but in a soft field instead of on a house near Buffalo, New York, on snow near Nome, Alaska or on the Hudson River.

The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800, en route from Istanbul, was almost to the airport when it suddenly lost speed and dropped. According to one person on board, the crash only took a few seconds. According to the article, most people did not suffer major injuries even though the plane broke into two pieces because there wasn’t much fuel left. If there had been more fuel, the outcome would have been worse. Still, the outcome wasn’t good.

Nine people died, including both the pilots. There were 25 with serious injuries, 24 with minor injuries and the rest walked away. In all there were 134 people on board. Considering that I was just in Amsterdam a couple months ago and flew into Schiphol Airport from the U.S., I’m thinking about how those fields looked when we were coming in for our landing. Yep, it’s a bit unnerving.

[This photo by PhillipC is of tulip fields when he was in route to Amsterdam from Gatwick.]