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22 Dead after catastrophic flooding in Middle Tennessee

Saturday’s flooding in rural areas took out roads, cellphone towers, and telephone lines, leaving families uncertain about whether their loved ones survived the unprecedented deluge.
Published: Aug. 21, 2021 at 9:01 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2021 at 9:52 PM EDT
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WAVERLY, Tenn. (WVLT / AP) - At least 22 people were killed and rescue crews searched desperately Sunday amid shattered homes and tangled debris for dozens of people still missing after record-breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through Middle Tennessee.

The National Weather Service reported the catastrophic flooding in Middle Tennessee on Saturday. CBS Affiliate, NewsChannel 5 reports almost one foot of rain fell in the span of six hours, overwhelming communities. Dickson, Humphreys, and Hickson Counties were the heaviest impacted.

Saturday’s flooding in rural areas took out roads, cellphone towers, and telephone lines, leaving families uncertain about whether their loved ones survived the unprecedented deluge. Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, a coordinator for health and safety supervisor with Humphreys County Schools.

Nashville Emergency Management is said to be sending four swift water rescue teams to impacted communities.

Many of the missing live in the neighborhoods where the water rose the fastest, said Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis, who confirmed the 22 fatalities in his county. The names of the missing were on a board in the county’s emergency center and listed on a city department’s Facebook page.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis says at least 30 people have been reported missing in the county, according to Nashville news outlets. “I would expect, given the number of fatalities, that we’re going to see mostly recovery efforts at this point rather than rescue efforts,” Tennessee Emergency Management Director Patrick Sheehan said.

The dead included twin babies who were swept from their father’s arms, according to surviving family members. The sheriff of the county of about 18,000 people some 60 miles west of Nashville said he lost one of his best friends.

The foreman at Lynn’s ranch, Wayne Spears, also was killed. “He’s out at his barn and next thing you know, he goes from checking animals in the barn to hanging on in the barn to people seeing him floating down the creek. And that’s how fast it had come up,” the sheriff said. A photo taken by someone at the ranch showed Spears in a cowboy hat clinging to a pillar in brown, churning water up to his chest.

National Weather Service Nashville meteorologist Krissy Hurley tells The Tennessean the area received “about 20-25% of the yearly rainfall total that this area sees in a year” in a single morning.

Up to 17 inches (43 centimeters) of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours Saturday, shattering the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3 inches (8 centimeters), the National Weather Service said.

The downpours rapidly turned the creeks that run behind backyards and through downtown Waverly into raging rapids. Business owner Kansas Klein stood on a bridge Saturday in the town of 4,500 people and saw two girls who were holding on to a puppy and clinging to a wooden board sweep past, the current too fast for anyone to grab them. He hadn’t found out what happened to them.

The Nashville Fire Department shared photos Saturday afternoon of the damage seen by TN-HART teams flying above the damage.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee toured the area, calling it a “devastating picture of loss and heartache.” He stopped on Main Street in Waverly where some homes were washed off their foundations and people were sifting though their water-logged possessions. All around the county were debris from wrecked cars, demolished businesses and homes and a chaotic, tangled mix of the things inside.

At the beginning of a news conference on Tropical Storm Henri’s impact on New England, President Joe Biden offered condolences to the people of Tennessee and directed federal disaster officials to talk with the governor and offer assistance.

Tennessee Emergency Management Agency announced a reunification center at McEwan High School in an effort to hopefully reunite some of the missing with their family members.

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