At least 10 killed in Tennessee flash floods; dozens missing

Debris from flooding is strewn along Sam Hollow Road following heavy rainfall in Tennessee on Saturday. — AP
Debris from flooding is strewn along Sam Hollow Road following heavy rainfall in Tennessee on Saturday. — AP

McEwen, Tenn. - Officials say at least 30 people are missing after record rainfall washed away homes and rural roads


Published: Sun 22 Aug 2021, 6:48 PM

Catastrophic flooding in Middle Tennessee left at least 10 people dead and dozens missing on Saturday as record-shattering rainfall washed away homes and rural roads, authorities said.

Business owner Kansas Klein watched in horror from a bridge as cars and entire houses were swept down a road in Waverly, a town of about 4,500 people that Klein, 48, has called home for more than half his life. Two girls who were holding on to a puppy and clinging to a wooden board swept past, far too fast for Klein and other onlookers to go down and grab hold of them.

After being told by authorities to go back, Klein returned a couple hours later, shocked that the floodwaters had almost entirely receded and aghast at the destruction that was left behind.

“It was amazing how quick it came and how quick it left,” Klein said.

Klein said his restaurant, a decade-old New York-style pizzeria, was still standing, but the morning deluge of between 25 and 30 centimetres) of rain in Humphreys County had caused floodwaters to reach 2.1 metres inside the eatery, rendering it a total loss.

After leaving his restaurant, Klein walked to the nearby public housing homes and heard yelling. A man had just recovered a baby’s body from one of the homes. Other bodies would soon follow.

“I’m looking at my restaurant, thinking how horrible it was that I lost my restaurant and then I walk around the corner and see someone’s baby dead — my restaurant doesn’t mean a whole lot right now,” Klein said in a phone interview on Saturday night. The City of Waverly Public Water System is under a boil water advisory until further notice.

The low-income homes — dozens of block buildings known as Brookside — appeared to have borne the brunt of the flash flood, Klein said.

“It was devastating: buildings were knocked down, half of them were destroyed,” Klein said. “People were pulling out bodies of people who had drowned and didn’t make it out.”

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told news outlets more than 30 people have been reported missing. It was not immediately clear how many had lived at Brookside, located about 60 miles (96 kilometres) west of Nashville.

Four shelters were set up on Saturday night for residents whose homes flooded, and a high school in McEwen was being used to reunite families. Phone lines knocked out during and after the storm complicated search efforts, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“There were people inside homes asleep and woke up to their house moving, like it was going down the creek,” said McEwen resident Michael Pate.

Two of the bodies recovered were toddlers who had been swept away from their father, Davis told WSMV-TV.

Waverly couple Cindy Dunn, 48, and her husband Jimmy, 49, were rescued from their attic by a crew who used a bulldozer to reach them.

“Hell. That’s what we had to go through,” Cindy Dunn told The Tennessean.

She said her husband woke her up on Saturday, telling her that floodwaters had pushed her car to their backyard. Eventually the water in their house rose to at least 6 feet high, forcing them to the attic. Dunn said the rooftop wasn’t an option.

“My husband is dealing with cancer. He’s going through chemotherapy. And I am an amputee. So, there was no going anywhere besides the attic,” Dunn said.

Dunn said their home and neighbouring houses “are gone”.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency activated its emergency operations centre and said agencies that include the Tennessee National Guard, the state Highway Patrol, and Fire Mutual Aid were responding to the flooding. In a bulletin, TEMA called the situation “dangerous and evolving” and urged people to avoid travel in the affected counties.

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