At least 22 dead and dozens injured after floods and record rains in Tennessee

At least 22 people were killed and rescue teams desperately searched Sunday amid shattered homes and tangled debris for dozens of people still missing after unprecedented rain caused flooding in central Tennessee.

Saturday’s floods in rural areas destroyed roads, cell phone towers and phone lines, leaving families unsure whether their loved ones survived the unprecedented flood. Emergency workers searched door-to-door, said Kristi Brown, coordinator of supervisory health and safety for Humphreys County Schools.

Many of the missing live in neighborhoods where the water rose the fastest, Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis said. Their names were on a board at the county emergency center and on the Facebook page of a city department.

“I would expect, given the number of deaths, that we will see primarily recovery efforts at this point rather than rescue efforts,” said Tennessee Emergency Management Director Patrick Sheehan.

The dead included two young children who were snatched from their father’s arms, according to surviving family members, and a foreman at the ranch of county music star Loretta Lynn. The county sheriff of about 18,000 people about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Nashville said he lost one of his best friends.

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

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee toured the area, calling it “a devastating image of loss and pain.” He stopped on Main Street in Waverly, where some houses were ripped off their foundations and people were going through their flooded possessions. The county was debris from wrecked cars, demolished businesses and homes, and a messy, tangled mix of things inside.

Shirley Foster cried when the governor approached. He said he had just learned that a friend from his church was dead.

“I thought I was over the shock of all this. I am heartbroken for my friend. My house is nothing, but my friend is gone, ”Foster told the governor.

The worst-hit areas saw twice as much rain as the Middle Tennessee area in the worst previous flood scenario, forecasters said. Lines of storms moved over the area for hours, squeezing out a record amount of moisture, a scenario that scientists warned could be more common due to global warming.

The downpours quickly turned the streams running behind the backyards and through downtown Waverly into raging rapids. Kansas Klein, a business owner, stood on a bridge Saturday in the city of 4,500 people and saw two girls holding a puppy and clinging to a wooden board, the current too fast for anyone to grab. . He had not found out what happened to them.

Not far from the bridge, Klein told The Associated Press by phone that dozens of buildings in a low-income housing area known as Brookside appeared to have suffered the brunt of the Trent Creek flash flood.

“It was devastating: the buildings were torn down, half of them were destroyed,” Klein said. “People were taking out the bodies of people who had drowned and couldn’t get out.”

The Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page was filled with people looking for missing family and friends. The GoFundMe pages were made asking for help with funeral expenses for the dead, including 7-month-old twins who were ripped from their father’s arms while trying to escape.

Lynn’s ranch foreman Wayne Spears also died.

“He’s in his barn and the next thing you know, he goes from checking the animals in the barn to staying in the barn and people see him floating down the stream. And that’s how quickly it had come up, “said the bailiff.

A photo taken by someone at the ranch showed Spears in a cowboy hat clinging to a brown pillar, churning water up to her chest.

“Wayne is just one of those guys, he just does everything for everyone, if there’s a job to do,” said his friend Michael Pate, who met Spears at the ranch 15 years ago.

At the Cash Saver grocery store in Waverly, employees stood at desks, cash registers, and a flower rack as waters from the creek that is typically 400 feet from the store rushed down after devastating homeless housing. low income next door. At one point, they tried to break through the roof into the attic and couldn’t, store co-owner David Hensley said.

The floodwaters stopped rising so fast just as the situation was getting desperate and a rescue boat arrived. “We told him if there’s anyone else you can get hold of, go get him, we think we’re fine,” Hensley said.

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

Just east of Waverly, the town of McEwen was hit with 17.02 inches (43.2 centimeters) of rain on Saturday, breaking the 24-hour state record of 13.6 inches (34.5 centimeters) from 1982, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville. although the numbers for Saturday would have to be confirmed.

A flash flood watch was issued for the area before the rain started, and forecasters said it was possible for 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) of rain. The worst storm ever recorded in this area of ​​central Tennessee only dropped 9 inches (23 centimeters) of rain, said Krissy Hurley, a meteorologist with the weather service in Nashville.

“Predicting near a record is something we don’t do very often,” Hurley said. “Double the amount we have seen was almost unfathomable.”

Recent scientific research has determined that extreme rains will be more frequent due to man-made climate change. Hurley said it’s impossible to know its exact role in Saturday’s flooding, but noted that last year his office dealt with flooding that used to be expected maybe once every 100 years in September south of Nashville and closer to March in March. the city.

“We had an incredible amount of water in the atmosphere,” Hurley said of Saturday’s flooding. “The thunderstorms developed and moved through the same area over and over again.”

The problem is not limited to Tennessee. A federal study found that man-made climate change doubles the chances of the types of heavy downpours that in August 2016 dumped 26 inches (66 centimeters) of rain around Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Those floods killed at least 13 people and damaged 150,000 homes.


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