Flooding kills 20 in Middle Tennessee

By KATE COIL
TML Communications Specialist

Officials have confirmed 20 people are dead following extreme flooding that devastated two Middle Tennessee cities.

The majority of deaths were citizens of Waverly, the hardest hit community by the flooding. The flood is now the deadliest event in the city’s history, exceeding the 1978 train tank car explosion that killed 16. Nearby, the city of McEwen also suffered great losses as flooding hit Dickson, Hickman, Houston, and Humphreys counties.

Between 9 and 17 inches of rain fell within a six-hour period on Saturday, Aug. 21, followed by a second round of severe weather that night. The National Weather Service reported the 17 inches of rain in McEwen broke the state’s previous record rainfall record by nearly four inches. The previous record was set in 1982 in Milan.

The record-breaking rainfall caused flash floods that covered roads, damaged residential areas, and required rescue operations, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).

Storms left more than 10,000 without power throughout the three-county region and cell phone service down or coverage spotty in many areas of Humphreys County. The city of Waverly also reported disruption to their water treatment facilities prompting a boil water advisory in all of Humphreys County.

Multiple bridges and roadways were closed including three state routes in the area. Search and rescue teams performed more than 20 evacuations on Sunday alone. Local officials estimated hundreds of houses and at least three schools in Humphreys County were left uninhabitable by the flooding.

With several families and loved ones separated as a result of the flooding, the Tennessee departments of Education and Health and Human Services established a reunification center at McEwen High School. Emergency shelters were also opened to those who had lost homes including two in Waverly, one in Centerville, and another in Dickson.
Several agencies from surrounding counties and communities came to help with rescue and recovery efforts. Ray Brown, chief of the Sparta-White County Rescue Squad, described the scene in Waverly.

“On the ride down, we kept getting pictures from folks and seeing on social media of pictures and videos, in Waverly, but none of that could prepare you for what it actually looked like on-scene,” Brown said. “I did take some pictures while we traveled to and from the calls we ran, and these pictures don’t capture the slightest fraction of the destruction. Houses were washed from their foundations, cars stacked on top of each other or piled up against bridges. But the worst part of it was knowing many families lost loved ones during these floods. Please keep this community in your prayers. There are lots of families still missing members, and, for the next several days, they will still be in recovery mode and then begin the rebuilding of their community.”

For information on how to help flooding victims and recovery efforts, visit https://www.tn.gov/tema/get-involved/middle-tennessee-flooding-recovery.html.