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'Crazy old' Tennessee man waits out the flooding

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
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Stranded by the floods
  • Danny Hayes, 61, lives in Bogota, Tennessee
  • The flooded Mississippi River has reached the door of his two-room trailer
  • Armed with his revolver, he is refusing to evacuate
  • "I got to sell this here land while it's still waterfront property," he jokes

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Bogota, Tennessee (CNN) -- Those who say no man is an island never met Danny Hayes. The 61-year-old retired construction supervisor lives in Bogota, Tennessee, a farming community so small that when asked how to find the town, locals respond, "Don't blink."

Hayes' trailer in Bogota is about seven miles from the Mississippi River. Historic flooding across the region brought "the Old Muddy" much closer to him.

The two-room trailer is more than 5 feet off the ground, but the river's invasion reaches Hayes' door and, at its height, threatened to evict him.

"There's the possibility the trailer could shift, could turn. Could flip over," Hayes said, standing on the trailer's small porch. "Then again, I am not worried about that because I will get out."

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The Mississippi's flooding has already forced hundreds to flee small towns like Bogota to cities like Memphis.

And meteorologists say the heavy rainfall across the South could mean weeks more of high water. Whatever comes, Hayes said he will not be moved.

"I'd say for the average person who grew up in towns, you'd be in a dangerous situation," he said. "I'd say a person who learned to live off the land and to survive, it's not a big thing."

The one acre of land Hayes retired to is no longer recognizable to him. Groves of pecan trees now stand half-covered in water.

Homes abandoned by neighbors sit in several feet of dank and stinking water. To get to dry ground, Hayes paddles a small boat about 50 yards to Highway 78.

Once on shore, he then walks the half-mile to town each day for a pack of cigarettes and a little conversation. The homes around Hayes' trailer sit empty, but as he waits out the flood, he is hardly alone.

Since the waters began to rise, Hayes said, all manner of animals have swum by the trailer, looking for higher ground. The snakes, he shoots.

"It's illegal to kill snakes in Tennessee," he said with a serious look before breaking into a wide smile. "Unless it's for your own protection."

The nine-shot revolver with a long barrel that Hayes keeps close also works to ward off other predators.

Empty homes in the rural area could make for an inviting target for looters, he said. But his and his neighbors' homes are safe, Hayes said, while he patrols his small "island."

To make his point, Hayes suddenly shoots the pistol three times in sudden succession into the invading waters.

"I am a crazy old man," he said with a laugh, "And I will shoot the hell out of you, and I am serious about that."

As he waits for the waters to retreat, Hayes' family checks in with him regularly by cell phone. His two sons and their families fret about his decision to ride out the flood.

But Hayes said he never considered leaving. He's too stubborn.

So stubborn he married and divorced the same woman three times before they finally called it quits.

Too stubborn "to run for the hills over some water."

"Rescue all them poor people and don't worry about this 61-year-old man," he said. "Don't waste no 911 on me."

But with the water slowly receding, it appears that Hayes will be spared from the flood's wet grasp. Still, it could be another week, he predicted, before Bogota begins to dry out.

Asked what he will do while the floodwaters retreat, Hayes replied with a ready joke.

"I got to sell this here land," he said, "while it's still waterfront property!"

CNN's Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.