U.S. promises aid for Tennessee flood victims

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Mon May 10, 2010 4:55pm EDT

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. May 10 (Reuters) - A week after storms sent rivers and creeks sloshing into homes, hotels and honky-tonk bars, Nashville officials estimated the damage at $1.4 billion and received a promise of federal aid on Monday.

"We will continue to return to make sure you have all the assistance you need," said Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, following a tour of flood-stricken areas in the sprawling city of 626,000 that is the capital of the country music industry .

Some 30 people died in Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi in the storms that began on May 1 and in the flood aftermath.

Streets in Nashville were lined with ruined furniture, soaked papers and assorted flood detritus, and the city hired a fleet of 80 trucks to haul it all away.

The owner of the flood-damaged Opryland country-music entertainment complex, Gaylord Entertainment Co GET.N, has said it will not take reservations for six months to give it time to recover.

Nashville is a popular tourist destination with sites including the Country Music Hall of Fame but officials have given no estimate of lost revenue from visitors.

Gaylord's share price had rebounded from its lows but were about 20 percent below pre-flood levels at $27.59, up $1.86.

Nashville's schools and courts reopened on Monday and bus service resumed. Mayor Karl Dean said some 17,000 residents have asked for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"Nashville is open for business," Dean said. "The town is up and running. Our biggest landmarks have reopened."

An assessment by CoreLogic, which provides property information and is part of First American Corp (FAF.N), said that of more than 4,800 Nashville properties exposed to flooding, only 1,738 were likely to have flood insurance.

In an administration effort to show its engagement with the twin disasters here and in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, U.S. Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate paid visits in recent days.

"We are not going to wait until all the damage is cleaned up" before providing federal aid, Commerce Department Secretary Gary Locke said during the visit with HUD's Donovan. "The Small Business Administration will be in tomorrow. We want the people of the area to have good-paying jobs."

Some residents who lost homes feared they may not qualify for rebuilding loans because they had already lost their jobs during the economic recession. Even some with flood insurance discovered the policies covered their homes, but not the homes' contents.

(Writing by Andrew Stern; Editing by Cynthia Osterman )

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