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Xiwu Chen, M.D., Ph.D., was awakened at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 2, by loud, persistent knocking at his door in Bellevue.
He ignored the knocking at first, then decided to open the door—it was a  hooded neighbor, standing in the rain, telling Chen, a research assistant professor of Medicine in Ambra Pozzi’s Nephrology lab,  to get out of his home as soon as he could. The waters of the Harpeth River were rising. He woke his wife and two daughters, 12 and 8, they grabbed some important files, and by the time they left the water had risen a foot.
“The water was rising so quickly that if we had tried to save some things, we wouldn’t have been able to get out of our neighborhood,” Chen recalls. The family parked in the parking lot of the Bellevue Sam’s Club, and tried to drive back about 9 a.m. The roads were closed and there was no way back.
Chen and his family spent the entire day inside Sam’s, eating lunch and passing the time.
A friend who lived in Green Hills called him later that day, and offered Chen and his family a place to stay.
The next day Chen returned to the home. When he opened the garage it was caked with mud and shoes and tools were tossed throughout. Inside the home, the scene was just as disturbing. A sofa had moved from one side of the room to the other, coming to rest on a table. “We lost almost everything, everything except our clothes.”
Chen’s Vanderbilt lab co-workers came on Monday and Tuesday to help, and other volunteers from the community and churches showed up, too. His daughters’ teachers from Meigs Middle School and Harpeth Valley Elementary came to help, and brought gift cards. “It was really nice. There was great support from the community and from the people around us—my lab, our community, old friends and new friends.”
Chen and his family had no flood insurance, but got some support from FEMA. “We want to rebuild and get back to our normal life.”
But, looking back, the most frightening experience of the flood wasn’t getting his family out safely; it was coming back to their home to find everything ruined.
“Sunday morning I was pretty confident I could get us out. I just didn’t expect the damage to be so huge when we came back. I thought ‘a flood is a flood. It’s some water.’ I had no idea what things were going to be like until we got back into the house.”

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