WAVERLY, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) —Search crews worked through shattered homes and tangled debris on Monday, looking for about a dozen people still missing after record-breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through rural Tennessee, killing at least 22 people.
Saturday’s flooding took out roads, cellphone towers and telephone lines, leaving people uncertain about whether family and friends survived the unprecedented deluge, with rainfall that more than tripled what forecasters had expected. Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, a coordinator for health and safety with Humphreys County Schools.
Many of the missing live in the neighborhoods where the water rose the fastest, said Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis, who confirmed the 22 fatalities in his county. The names of the missing were on a board in the county’s emergency center 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 dead 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 some 60 miles west of Nashville said he lost one of his best friends.
One of the hardest-hit areas was the city of Waverly in Humphreys County. Mayor Buddy Frazier said most people he’s spoken with felt totally caught off guard by the rainfall. “It was something like the quickness of a tornado I guess. Someone described it as a tidal wave.”
A boil water alert is currently in place for Waverly as its water treatment facility remains offline. Humphreys County schools will be closed for the rest of this week, with reports of approximately 40 to 50 school buses damaged from floodwater.
At a press briefing Sunday afternoon after touring the damage, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said details are still unfolding in terms of the impact of the flooding.
“There’s much yet to know about what the end results will be. But what we do know is that it’s incredibly difficult, and our hearts and our prayers need to be for those communities, for those folks in that community, many of them who have suffered not only the loss of their homes and their property, but the loss of family members and friends,” He said.
Rainfall totals range from 9 to 17 inches within a 6-hour period Saturday morning and another round of severe weather impacted the same area Saturday night. The rain shattered the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3 inches, the National Weather Service said.
Just to the east of Waverly, the town of McEwen was pummeled Saturday with 17.02 inches of rain, smashing the state’s 24-hour record of 13.6 inches from 1982, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville, though Saturday’s numbers would have to be confirmed.
Multiple bridges and roadways in the impacted area remain closed. Telecommunication services and electrical power are gradually being restored. Local and state personnel continue to work with flood survivors on reunification.
A Level 3 State of Emergency is currently active in Tennessee.
On Sunday afternoon, President Biden tweeted his support for Tennessee following the deadly flooding, “I send my deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life due to flash flooding in Tennessee. We’ve reached out to the community and will offer any assistance they need in this terrible moment,” wrote Biden.
Lee spoke about the president expressing his interest in helping. “We will be putting together a request for an emergency federal assistance declaration of emergency. So those talks are happening right now and that that that request for assistance will happen.”
Donations can be made to the Tennessee Emergency Response Fund set up by the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.
The governor added those initial assessments will be done within the next few days.
NewsNation affiliate WKRN and The Associated Press contributed to this report
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