Jessica Moog

Paddle to the Rescue

Jessica Moog
Paddle to the Rescue

How volunteer Dan Gislao used his kayak to help neighbors during the flood of 2010.

I was helping folks get their animals, medicine, musical instruments, clothes, laptops and whatever else they needed. Some would give me a list, their address and keys
— Dan Gislao

A version of this story was originally published in in 2011 in the book "Take My Hand: How Nashville United in the Wake of the 2010 Flood."

While the vast majority of volunteers after the May floods helped when the water cleared, Dan Gislao used his love for kayaking to help rescue pets and belongings by water. He woke Monday morning, May 3, 2010 thinking he was going to help flood victims clean out their basements, like many other fellow East Nashvillians. But then he used his hobby as an asset. Water was high, and helping on foot was nearly impossible.

When Dan showed up at the ArtHouse Gardens in East Nashville, he brought a couple of bilge pumps, tools that kayakers use to get the water out of their kayaks. He was thinking these would be good for pumping water out of houses. He headed out with a group of volunteers and then got a call from Catherine McTamaney, a volunteer coordinator in East Nashville who worked in concert with Hands On Nashville. “You’ve got a kayak, right?” she asked. And this is where his heart and passion for paddling came into play.

When Dan got the call, he was at the home of an avid animal lover in East Nashville who let him borrow a few pet carriers. He strapped a carrier onto the front of his kayak and started his mission. The first area he came to, police officers were ordering people away, so he ventured over to the intersection of Cooper Terrace and Cooper Lane.

Dan heard a scream come from one of the Cooper Terrace residents, “My baby, my baby. My baby is in that house, you’ve got to go help her!” Dan panicked, logically assuming an infant was inside. But another resident calmly told him it was the woman’s little white dog that was in danger. Dan grabbed the pet carrier he had tied to the front of his kayak and brought the dog to safety.

People would call or stop by and ask if we could check on relatives and elderly neighbors. You didn’t really think about what you were doing until you were done doing it. Once you were home, showered, and had dinner you thought about what you saw that day. It didn’t hit you until you sat down. It was all so surreal.

“She was very appreciative. Everyone was. In the Cooper Terrace area, I was helping folks get their animals, medicine, musical instruments, clothes, laptops and whatever else they needed. Some would give me a list, their address and keys.”

Some just wanted him to go in their house and take pictures and come back and show the damage that had occurred. Unbeknownst to Dan, address bearing mailboxes were under the water, so it took some time getting to the correct houses.

“People would call or stop by and ask if we could check on relatives and elderly neighbors. You didn’t really think about what you were doing until you were done doing it. Once you were home, showered, and had dinner you thought about what you saw that day. It didn’t hit you until you sat down. It was all so surreal.”

There are many interesting situations that Dan encountered. One woman came up to him and said that her father had passed away and the only pictures she had of him were in a photo album in her house. She asked him to go get it for her. “These were family heirlooms. You can rebuild a house, but you can’t get back some of these things.”

Dan encountered many uplifting moments during the days of the flood cleanup and rescue; but when asked, he talked about the weeks and months after the flood.

He and his girlfriend went to walk their dog in June, a month after the flood, around areas that Dan had helped. One of the families for whom he snapped pictures was moving back into their house. Dan went up to talk with the family members. They remembered him, and it brought great joy.

“It felt so good seeing people positive and moving back in—they had no self-pity. Not one bit.”

About Take My Hand: How Nashville United in the Wake of the 2010 Flood:

In the first days of May 2010, Nashville was devastated by a 1,000-year flood. All Middle Tennesseans were affected, either personally or through friends' and family members' hardships. Yet out of this tragedy came triumph in the form of a historic volunteer response. "Take My Hand" celebrates the thousands of volunteers who refused to let the flood destroy Nashville. It is about the volunteers who worked night and day to help total strangers