Search crews are working through shattered homes and tangled debris looking for about a dozen people still missing after record-breaking rain sent floodwater surging through mid Tennessee, killing at least 22 people.
Saturday’s flooding took out roads, mobile phone towers and telephone lines, leaving people uncertain about whether family and friends survived the unprecedented deluge as rainfall more than tripled what forecasters had expected.
Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, a health and safety co-ordinator with Humphreys County Schools.
Many of the missing live in the neighbourhoods where the water rose the fastest, said Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis, who confirmed the 22 deaths in his county.
The names of the missing were on a board in the county’s emergency centre and listed on a city of Waverly Facebook page.
“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 Humphreys County Sheriff Office Facebook page filled with people looking for missing friends and family. GoFundMe pages were made asking for help for funeral expenses for the dead.
The victims included twin babies who were swept from their father’s arms, according to surviving family members, and a foreman at country music star Loretta Lynn’s ranch.
The sheriff of the county of about 18,000 people, 60 miles west of Nashville, said he lost one of his best friends.
Up to 17in of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours on Saturday, shattering the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3in, the National Weather Service said.
Tennessee governor Bill Lee toured the area, calling it a “devastating picture of loss and heartache”.
Our hearts are with the many Tennesseans experiencing loss & heartbreak following yesterday's deadly floods. The loss of life & property damage is devastating, & many of our neighbors are still missing. Please keep these communities in your prayers. pic.twitter.com/4gCJXXsIZK
— Gov. Bill Lee (@GovBillLee) August 22, 2021
President Joe Biden offered condolences to the people of Tennessee and directed federal disaster officials to talk with the governor and offer assistance.
Just east of Waverly, the town of McEwen was pummelled with 17.02in of rain, smashing the state’s 24-hour record of 13.6in from 1982, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville, though Saturday’s numbers will have to be confirmed.
A flash flood watch was issued for the area before the rain started, with forecasters saying 4in to 6in of rain was possible.
The worst storm recorded in this area of Tennessee only dropped 9in of rain, said Krissy Hurley, a weather service meteorologist in Nashville.
“Forecasting almost a record is something we don’t do very often,” she said. “Double the amount we’ve ever seen was almost unfathomable.”