Published: May 04, 2010 10:58 AM EDT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Cumberland River having reached its

crest was little comfort amid fears that receding floodwaters could

reveal more victims of deadly storms that swamped much of middle

Tennessee.

The death toll was at 28 across three states, but hope was slim

that number would stand Tuesday as recovery begins in earnest.

The flooding, which pushed the river's muddy waters into

Nashville's historic downtown, came amid severe storms that brought

flash floods so swift many could not escape.

Residents and authorities know they'll find widespread property

damage in inundated areas, but dread even more devastating

discoveries.

"Those in houses that have been flooded and some of those more

remote areas, do we suspect we will find more people? Probably

so," Nashville Fire Chief Kim Lawson said. "We certainly hope

that it's not a large number."

Thousands of people fled rising water and hundreds were rescued,

but bodies were recovered Monday from homes, a yard, even a wooded

area outside a Nashville supermarket. By Monday night, the rapidly

rising waters were blamed in the deaths of 17 people in Tennessee

alone, including 10 in Nashville.

The weekend storms also killed six people in Mississippi and

four in Kentucky, including one man whose truck ran off the road

and into a flooded creek. One person was killed by a tornado in

western Tennessee.

In Nashville, the Cumberland also deluged some of the city's

most important revenue sources: the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and

Convention Center, whose 1,500 guests were whisked to a shelter;

the adjacent Opry Mills Mall; even the Grand Ole Opry House,

considered by many to be the heart of country music.

"That's the hub of the whole deal down here," 82-year-old

businessman John Hobbs said of the entertainment complex. "Without

them nobody would be down here. That's like the star of the whole

family.

Floodwaters also edged into areas of downtown, damaging the

Country Music Hall of Fame, LP Field where the Tennessee Titans

play and the Bridgestone Arena, home to the NHL's Nashville

Predators and one of the city's main concert venues.

Carly Horvat, 29, lives in a downtown condo and ventured out

with a few friends to look at damage Monday night.

"I have never heard the city so quiet," Horvat said.

"Usually, you hear whooping and hollering from Broadway."

Damage estimates range into the tens of millions of dollars.

Gov. Phil Bredesen declared 52 of Tennessee's 95 counties disaster

areas after finishing an aerial tour from Nashville to western

Tennessee during which he saw flooding so extensive that treetops

looked like islands.

The severity of the storms caught everyone off guard. More than

13.5 inches of rainfall were recorded Saturday and Sunday,

according to the National Weather Service, making for a new two-day

record that doubled the previous mark.

Dramatic rescues continued into Monday as water crept into areas

that had remained safe during weekend downpours.

Authorities and volunteers in fishing boats, an amphibious tour

bus and a canoe scooped up about 500 trapped vacationers at the

Wyndham Resort along the river near Opryland. Rescuers had to steer

through a maze of underwater hazards, including submerged cars,

some with tops barely visible above floodwaters the color of milk

chocolate.

Bill Crousser was riding his Jet Ski past a neighbor's house

when he rescued a man, his wife and their dog moments before flames

from a fire in the garage broke through the roof.

"We just got the hell out of there," Crousser said.

The water swelled most of the area's lakes, minor rivers,

creeks, streams and drainage systems far beyond capacity. It flowed

with such force that bridges were washed out and thousands of homes

were damaged. Much of that water then drained into the Cumberland,

which snakes through Nashville.

The Cumberland topped out around 6 p.m. Monday at 51.9 feet,

about 12 feet above flood stage and the highest it's reached since

1937. It began to recede just in time to spare the city's only

remaining water treatment plant.

Still, about 50 Nashville schools were damaged and floodwaters

submerged hundreds of homes in the Bellevue suburb alone, including

Lisa Blackmon's. She escaped with her dog and her car but feared

she lost everything else.

"I know God doesn't give us more than we can take," said

Blackmon, 45, who lost her job at a trucking company in December.

"But I'm at my breaking point."