Extreme floods in Middle Tennessee on Saturday have killed at least 21 people, according to Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis.
Search and recovery efforts remain underway in Waverly and Humphreys County, where at least 45 people are confirmed missing, Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency said in a 3:30 p.m., news release.
Waverly Mayor Wallace “Buddy” Frazier said the ages of the dead start at 7 months and stretch to the elderly.
The county will be under an 8 p.m. curfew Sunday night, and law enforcement from surrounding counties will assist in an effort to prevent looting, according to the release.
East Main Street has been shut down due to an influx of traffic.
“We are asking that residents please stay out of neighborhoods and roadways while the rescue effort is underway,” Waverly Chief of Public Safety Grant Gillespie stated.
Humphreys County EMA Public Information Officer Grey Collier estimates hundreds of homes may be uninhabitable.
Roughly 60 people have taken shelter at three locations in Waverly: Waverly Church of Christ, First Baptist Church Waverly and Compassion Church Waverly, according to Collier.
A Reunification Center at McEwen High School on 335 Melrose Street is open Sunday until 5 p.m. and will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. The center can be reached at 931-582-6950, according to TEMA.
Search and rescue efforts continue in Humphreys County after severe flooding early Saturday with 21 confirmed fatalities and 45 persons confirmed missing.
Twenty deaths are within the City of Waverly and one is in the county, according to the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency.
Those with family members missing are asked to provide as much information as possible, including available photos, Davis said.
Response to shift to recovery efforts in coming days
Gov. Bill Lee, along with both Tennessee senators and the head of Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, spoke to the media late Sunday afternoon after touring the flooding in Humphreys County.
Patrick Sheehan, director of TEMA, said he expects it will “mostly be recovery” efforts in the coming days as the floodwaters subside.
Lee confirmed his administration has reached out to the White House and planned to ask for a federal disaster declaration in the coming days.
President Joe Biden spoke about the flooding on Sunday as part of the president’s address about the ongoing operation efforts in Afghanistan.
Lee said the situation in Humphreys, and in particular Waverly, was a “devastating picture of loss and heartache.”
Lee also praised the “tremendous outpouring,” of help and the “swift response” of first emergency crews throughout the state.
“It was dramatic to hear the stories about how fast this happened,” Lee said.
Gov. Lee, state legislators arrive to survey damage
Lee and U.S. Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty arrived in Humphreys County via helicopter around 12:45 p.m. Sunday to survey the damage.
During the flight, a washed-out bridge was visible from the air, as were homes torn from their foundations.
Lee, Blackburn and Hagerty were greeted at Three Rivers Hospital by Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis, state Sen. Kerry Roberts and state Rep. Mary Littleton.
Lee toured Waverly Elementary School, which filled with 4 feet of water. The school’s playground was in splinters Sunday morning, its mangled metal gates twisted into odd angles.
“Goodness gracious,” Lee said, looking out the window in the car ride to the school, passing by homes taken off their foundations and moved into neighbors’ yards. Residents whose homes remained pulled their belongings into yards to sort through what was salvageable.
As Blackburn took in the extent of the damage in Waverly Elementary School, she noted children’s art supplies, books and folders strewn outside the building, covered in mud. She wondered aloud about whether the students’ families had bought the supplies themselves, and how much would need to be replaced at the school.
Lee asked to stop along Main Street to speak with residents of damaged homes.
As he walked up to Shirley Foster’s destroyed home, she broke down in tears. She had just learned her friend from church was among the dead.
“I just found out my friend’s dead,” Foster said to Lee as he crouched down to embrace her. She leaned onto his shoulder and sobbed. “I thought I was over the shock of all this. I’m just tore up over my friend. My house is nothing, but my friend is gone.”
Foster and her husband, Jim, have long lived in Humphreys County, but just moved to Main Street three years ago to downsize. Trace Creek runs directly behind their home, which they had been renovating. The Fosters took shelter in their attic as they waited for flooding to recede.
“Our truck’s gone,” Shirley Foster said. “But my car happened to be in the shop, so we do still have one vehicle.”
Later in the afternoon, Lee and the group stopped in the parking lot of a strip mall, which is serving as a meeting point and staging area for law enforcement and other first responders arriving from other areas to help.
“People say thanks for coming, but we don’t do anything when we come other than tell you we’re grateful for what you’re doing,” Lee said from the hot, sun-soaked asphalt parking lot.
Hickman County Schools closed
Hickman County Schools will be closed Monday because of hazardous road conditions caused by flooding, according to the Hickman County Emergency Management Agency.
Dickson County Schools will open one hour late.
Volunteers collect donations, help search for missing people
Sheriff’s departments from across Middle Tennessee set up mobile command stations at the local Dollar Tree parking lot on Main Street. Dozens of volunteers signed up to go on search missions for missing people.
On Main Street, 36-year-old Chelsea Christman’s home has become a hub for volunteers and donations. It’s near Waverly’s First Baptist Church, which is acting as a shelter for displaced families. By Sunday morning, donations of non-perishable food, water, baby supplies and fresh clothes overflowed from Christman’s porch.
Dozens of residents walked through the flooded neighborhoods close to the downtown district Sunday afternoon. ATVs and trucks with trailers hauling boats and equipment poured through the tight city roads as civilian and professional volunteers alike worked to help where needed.
Smoke from grills filled the air as several people fired up hot dogs to feed anyone hungry passing by. People stood on corners handing out bottled water.
“If you have family members missing, please provide as much information as possible, including any photos you have available,” Davis said.
Sunday morning reveals severe damage
Waverly, typically serene, was transformed into a nightmare Saturday as more than 17 inches of rain dumped on the community.
Along Tumbling Creek Road, cornfields were flooded by nearby waterways. The winding roadway into Waverly off Interstate 40 was open Sunday, but as the roadway neared the town, road conditions drastically changed.
Destroyed mobile homes lined Blue Creek, tossed around by the currents. Abandoned cars thrown from the bridge hung off the creek bank. Slabs of roadway peeled from the ground.
The Duck River and Hurricane Creek remain swollen with swirling, muddy waters.
Crews went door to door Saturday night in an effort to locate the missing. Search and recovery efforts are underway, complicated by damaged roads strewn with debris.
Davis said communications are limited and asked the public to be patient. He anticipates the department’s efforts will stretch over several days.
“We’re getting really overwhelmed inside,” Davis said.
The Tennessee Valley Authority said 14.5 inches fell on Humphreys County, where Waverly is located. The floods prompted water rescues and closed down Interstate 40 on Saturday. A state of emergency was issued for Dickson, Hickman, Houston and Humphreys counties.
A boil water advisory is in effect for Waverly due to disruption to its water treatment facilities.
As of Saturday night, an estimated 10,000 residents were without power in Hickman, Houston and Humphreys counties, as well as a portion of Dickson County.
Waverly Mayor: ‘It’s devastated this town’
Waverly Mayor Wallace “Buddy” Frazier surveyed damage of his childhood home in a neighborhood along Trace Creek.
In the neighborhood, more than a dozen homes were ripped from their foundations and carried by currents to different lots. Homes along Joe Street, Slayden Avenue and East Commerce Street suffered significant damage.
Two homes in the neighborhood off Simpson Avenue were smoldering after they caught fire during the flooding. Flames were still alive Sunday in one of the homes, likely from gas.
The town has seen flooding before in 1984, 2010 and most recently, 2019, but this tops it all, Frazier said.
“It’s devastated this town. It’s going to kill us economically,” he said.
Search continues for missing
Flood waters surged through Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, a campground and event venue owned by country singer Loretta Lynn in Hurricane Mills within Humphreys County.
The ranch’s foreman, Wayne Spears died, according to a Facebook post by the ranch. The veasked for prayers for Spears, his family and all impacted by the devastation on its Facebook page Saturday night.
“We are all absolutely shocked and devastated,” the post states.
Many took to social media in search of family members they were unable to reach.
Flood survivors can register themselves as safe at www.safeandwell.org under “Middle Tennessee Flooding,” a resource set up by the American Red Cross. Friends and family members can also search the list of those registered as “safe and well” for loved ones.
A Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesperson said they weren’t sure how many deaths occurred across the Midstate from the floods and were awaiting confirmation from the Tennessee Department of Health.
The floods knocked out power lines and emergency lines, rendering 911 useless in Humphreys County.
Crews from across the Midstate were sent to assist efforts in Humphreys County, including the Tennessee National Guard.
Roadways from Dickson into Waverly were blocked Saturday, either by roads crumbled by ferocious floodwaters or blocked by water or debris.
Middle Tennessee floods:Death count rises in Humphreys County after extreme floods rock Middle Tennessee
Flash floods in Middle Tennessee:Heavy rain triggers ‘catastrophic’ flash floods in Middle Tennessee: What we know
Forecast shows drier weather following ‘catastrophic’ floods
“Drier, warmer weather” is expected over the next week, NWS Nashville stated in a Sunday Facebook post. NWS does not anticipate any more hazardous weather for at least the next seven days.
NWS Nashville meteorologist Krissy Hurley told The Tennessean parts of Hickman County got 11.66 inches of rain early Saturday. Lyles, also in Hickman County, got 9.05 inches, according to volunteers who help measure rainfall for the agency. She called it a “dire, catastrophic situation.”
The river gauge on the Piney River at Vernon in Hickman County measured nearly 32 feet Saturday, shattering the river’s record crest in 2019 by close to 12 feet, the NWS reported.
Families rescued from floods:Middle Tennessee flash flooding forces families to be rescued: it was ‘hell’
Four shelters opened Saturday to help people affected by the storms:
- Waverly Church of Christ – 438 West Main St., Waverly
- YMCA of Dickson County – 225 Henslee Drive, Dickson
- First Baptist Church – 300 East Main St., Waverly
- Fairfield Church of Christ – 1860 TN-100, Centerville
On Sunday morning, Compassion Church Pastor Kody Newcomb told the congregation and others, “we need to do this.”
“We cannot let this city just stay where it is, or just be served here or there. We need to be the light of the world so people can see these loving actions,” Newcomb said. “This is not a two-day project. This is not even a two-week project. We are going to continue to serve this city and love on it even after it’s repaired, on a whole new level.”
Reporters Natalie Allison, Chris Gadd and Rachel Wegner contributed.