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Obama declares 'major disaster' in Tenn.

WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- Tennesseans Wednesday began the task of assessing damage from the deadly flood while coping with a shortage of drinking water and some looting, officials said.

The National Weather Service said river levels were dropping slowly in the Nashville area, but flood conditions were expected for the next couple of days, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported. Officials said the death toll in the state had risen to 20 and may go higher, the newspaper said.

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Nashville has been particularly hard hit by the high waters, with landmarks including the football stadium and the Grand Ole Opry House under water.

The Tennessean reported water supplies were dwindling in the city where people were being urged to do more to conserve. Metro Water Services Director Scott Potter said since only one water treatment plant was functioning residents were being called on to use less water.

The newspaper also said Nashville Police Chief Ronal Serpas confirmed there had been 17 incidents of looting. Two suspects were arrested, Serpas said.

Nashville-area school employees were being asked to return to work Thursday and classes may resume Monday, though it wasn't certain, The Tennessean said.

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"We are putting that decision on hold right now," said Jesse Register, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools, which has about 10,000 employees and 76,000 students.

Nashville officials said they were sending search-and-rescue teams into the flooded neighborhoods to check on people and property to make sure it is safe.

Authorities said only properly credentialed building owners and property managers were being allowed in flooded downtown areas Wednesday to conduct brief inspections.

Meanwhile, recreational boating was banned on the Tennessee River from Paducah, Ky., to the Alabama border because of record high water levels. Commercial traffic was still allowed.

President Barack Obama has declared a major disaster area in four Tennessee counties devastated by flooding that had claimed a total of about 30 nationwide since April 30.

The president's disaster declaration requires federal resources to be deployed to Cheatham, Davidson, Hickman and Williamson counties to aid in the recovery. Grants and loans to cover home repairs and temporary housing will be part of the federal assistance, the White House said in a statement.

Gracia B. Szczech was named the federal coordinating officer for recovery operations.

Damage surveys and assessments were still under way, and more assistance will be allocated as necessary. Individuals and business owners can register for assistance at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA.

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