Tennessee Flooding Leaves at Least 21 Dead
At least 21 in Tennessee and 5 in North Carolina are dead after floods overwhelm rural communities.
A damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., a day after the flood that officials said killed at least 21 people.Credit…Mark Humphrey/Associated Press
At least 21 people have been killed in Tennessee and about 10 others remained missing on Monday after a catastrophic flash flood swept through a rural area of rivers, creeks and rolling woods about 90 minutes’ drive west of Nashville, the authorities said.
Two of the dead appeared to be twin toddlers who were swept away from their father, Sheriff Chris Davis of Humphreys County told WSMV-TV of Nashville. And another victim was the sheriff’s best friend.
“He drowned in this,” Sheriff Davis told the station. “If I stay working and stay focused, I work through it.”
Among those still missing on Monday was Lucy Connor, 7, who lives with her family behind a dollar store in Waverly, according to the station. The Waverly Department of Public Safety posted a partial list of those missing on Monday.
The flash flood disappeared this weekend as quickly as it arrived, leaving behind a trail of destruction in and around Humphreys County. Homes were washed off their foundations and tossed across the street. Cars and trucks were strewn about, and bridges and roads crumbled. Debris filled chain-link fences.
“Our people need help,” Sheriff Davis said at an afternoon news conference. “We are going to be overwhelmed for the next 30 days at least — overwhelmed.” He said the devastation extended up to 10 miles.
More than 3,000 homes in the region remained without power on Monday morning, according to state emergency officials, and schools were shut down for the week after some buildings suffered water damage.
The number of victims and potential victims fluctuated on Monday as new names were added to the list of people missing and others were reported safe by family members, officials said. At one point on Sunday, officials had said at least 22 people were dead.
Chief Grant Gillespie of the Waverly Department of Public Safety told reporters that he believed fewer than 10 people were missing by Monday afternoon. Many on a list of about 40 people from earlier in the day had been found safe.
At a news conference on Sunday, Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee described the deadly flooding as “a devastating picture of loss and heartache in one of our Tennessee communities.”
In neighboring North Carolina, at least five people were killed after flash floods wiped out homes in the western part of the state in the wake of Tropical Depression Fred last week, the authorities said on Sunday.
The dead, ages 68 to 86, were from Cruso, N.C., in Haywood County, where homes were swept off their foundations. Rescuers were searching on Sunday for another person who remained missing.
Josh Whitlock and Stacy Mathieson look through what is left of their home after it burned following flooding in Waverly.Credit…Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean, via Associated Press
At a news conference on Sunday, President Biden said he had encouraged federal officials to offer assistance to Tennessee. “I want to begin by expressing my deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life due to this flash flood,” he said.
Heavy rain and storms overwhelmed creeks in the mountains west of Nashville starting on Saturday morning. Nine to 17 inches of rain fell across parts of Central Tennessee within a six-hour period, and another round of severe weather struck the same area on Saturday night.
In Waverly, Tenn., Rickey Larkin said he saw the creek behind his home spill over its banks. “We prayed and we prayed it would go down,” he said. “We came about a foot from drowning. I thought we were gone.”
One of the hardest-hit areas was the town of McEwen, where 17 inches of rainfall was recorded on Saturday. The National Weather Service said the figure most likely set a statewide record for the most rainfall in a 24-hour span. The previous record of 13.6 inches was set in 1982.
“Right now I close my eyes, and I can’t get over the devastation,” Sheriff Davis told reporters.