The flash floods caught the city off-guard, and thousands of residents and tourists were forced to flee homes and hotels as the river rapidly spilled over its banks. Eleven of the 12 people killed in Tennessee drowned, including six in Nashville.
Using motor boats, jet skis and canoes, authorities and volunteers rescued residents trapped in flooded homes on Monday, some which looked like islands surround by dark brown river water.
The downtown — home of a historic warehouse district that dates back to the 1800s and is now occupied by bars and restaurants — was nearly deserted Monday after authorities evacuated the area.
Water seeped into a mechanical room in the basement of the Country Music Hall of Fame, though it was not immediately clear if there was any damage.
Two blocks away, the historic Ryman Auditorium, longtime former home of the Grand Ole Opry, was in no immediate danger nor were many of the country music recording studios, located about a mile west of downtown.
The Cumberland River was expected to crest Monday afternoon at more than 11 feet (3.35 meters) above flood stage, and officials worried they may find more bodies in the rising floodwaters.
Thousands of people took refuge overnight in emergency shelters, including about 1,500 guests at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center who spent the night at a high school to escape the flooding.
The resort's hotel, located northeast of downtown along the river, had "significant water" inside and would remain closed indefinitely, said hotel spokeswoman Kim Keelor.
Water flooded parking lots around the nearby Grand Ole Opry House and the Opry Mills shopping mall, but officials there would not immediately confirm if water had made it inside those buildings.