State Tries To Save Thousands Of Flood Damaged Documents - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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State Tries To Save Thousands Of Flood Damaged Documents

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By Ben Hall
Investigative Reporter
 

A NewsChannel 5 investigation is raising questions about why the state of Tennessee stored thousands of critical documents in a flood plain. 

The state's record warehouse flooded in May, damaging or destroying thousands of documents. 

NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered the state was aware of the flooding potential for years, but didn't move the documents. 

The state stored more than 100,000 documents at a warehouse on Cowan Street in downtown Nashville, 120 feet from the Cumberland River. 

The Record Center stored everything from basic documents to adoption records and other records described as "vital." 

The state is shutting down the warehouse and shipping 25,000 boxes of flood damaged documents to a company in Texas hoping they can be restored. 

"There were just a lot of records that were damaged," said Angelita Dobbs, who is the state official overseeing the move. 

She remembers what the warehouse looked like immediately after four feet of water poured into the building. 

"There was just a lot of mud and it smelled bad," said Dobbs. "Papers were everywhere." 

NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained pictures of the flooding aftermath taken for insurance purposes.  

They show thousands of records on the floor of the warehouse. One picture indicated an entire rack of documents fell during the flood. 

"Are some of those records important? Definitely," said Lola Potter spokesperson for General Services which oversees the record center.  

She said every department in state government has records at the warehouse including TennCare and the state Supreme Court. Most of the documents will eventually be destroyed, but state law requires that they be kept for a certain period of time. 

As a result of the flood, the state shipped 25,000 boxes of waterlogged records to an out-of-state company that will painstakingly try to save them. 

"We can do what we can to restore them," said Potter.  "At the end of the day some may not be restorable or readable once they are restored." 

It begs the question, why were they stored in a flood plain just 120 feet from the Cumberland River?

"We recognized best case scenario, we'd like to have these records in a different place," said Potter. 

In fact, the state produced a report three years ago which warns the Record Center will flood if the Wolfe Creek or Center Hill Dams failed. 

"The biggest fear we had was from the Wolfe Creek Dam, and with that we'd have twenty four hours," said Potter. 

The report details what records employees should save if the dam failed. If the Wolfe Creed Dam failed, employees would have 24 hours before the water reached Nashville.  

But with the May flood there was no time to remove anything. 

Insurance adjusters initially estimated the total cost of the damage to the Records Center was $7 million. That includes the cost of restoring damaged documents. 

"It could be expensive, but the state has laws in place that we maintain records, and we've got to do what we can to meet the law," said Potter. 

The state is turning all record storage over to a private company. The contract with Richards and Richards specifically said the new warehouse should not be a place likely to flood. 

The good news is that FEMA will reimburse the state for 90 percent of flood losses. The State Record Center was the building with the most costly damage.  

E-mail: bhall@newschannel5.com 

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