Heavy rainfall causes catastrophic, deadly flooding in Middle Tennessee

Waverly flooding sky 5 8/21/21
Posted at 10:06 AM, Aug 22, 2021

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Heavy rainfall on Saturday morning caused catastrophic flooding in parts of Middle Tennessee, killing at least 19 people.

"We’ve experienced a devastating loss of life over the last couple of days. We’ve lost more in this event than we did in the train explosion in 1978," said Waverly Police and Fire Chief Grant Gillespie. "But we’ve seen the community come together."

Watch: Humphreys County officials give update on damage in the video player below:

The Waverly Department of Public Safety shared a list of more than 40 names of missing residents, but within hours were able to reconnect nearly half to their loved ones. Click here to view the most recent list.

A reunification center has been set up at McEwen High School. Anyone with missing person information or looking for a loved one is asked to meet at the school. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday and Monday. TEMA set up a phone line to reach the reunification center at 931-582-6950. On Sunday, 60 people were united at the center will family and friends.

Survivors can also register through the American Red Cross online to let family and friends know they are safe. To register or find a loved one, click here and scroll to "Middle Tennessee Flooding."

Two shelters for flood victims have been opened in Humphreys County at First Baptist Church at 300 E. Main Street and the Waverly Church of Christ at 438 W. Main Street.

How to help victims of Saturday's flooding in Middle Tennessee

Search teams from all over Tennessee are helping to locate victims. The searches will continue until sunset and will resume on Monday morning. Patrick Sheehan, director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said he expects to see mostly recovery efforts rather than rescue efforts at this point due to the number of fatalities that have already been reported.

PHOTOS: Heavy rainfall causes severe flooding in Middle Tennessee

On Saturday morning, the National Weather Service called the flooding in Humphreys County a "very dire situation." The heavy rain and rising water prompted the NWS to issue a flash flood emergency for several counties west of Nashville. A flash flood emergency is only issued in rare situations where heavy rain can lead to a severe threat to human life and damage.

TEMA said in Middle Tennessee, anywhere from 9 to 17 inches of rain fell within a 6-hour time period. In some areas of Humphreys County, 17 inches of rain was recorded on Saturday, likely shattering the state's 24-hour rainfall record.

preliminary rainfall record
The storms on August 21, 2021, likely smashed the state's record amount of rainfall in a 24-hour period.

For perspective, the devastating flooding in 2010 recorded 13.57 inches over two days, however, in McEwen, 17 inches of rain was recorded in just hours.

The City of Waverly was so heavily flooded, it was inaccessible by vehicle for some time on Saturday. Several roads have now reopened as the water has begun to recede. Interstate 40 has reopened, as has Highway 13 and Highway 70 west. About 30 roads are heavily damaged or destroyed by the floodwater.

Officials estimate millions of dollars in damage to infrastructure, homes and schools. Waverly Elementary School sustained about 4 feet of flooding. Humphreys County Schools have canceled classes for the week in response to the damage. Dickson County Schools will also be impacted with a 1-hour delay on Monday. In Hickman County, schools will not open on Monday due to hazardous road conditions.

Cell phone and internet service have been interrupted in Humphreys County. AT&T and Verizon are working to bring additional resources to the area to improve internet and cell phone access for the public and first responders.

The city's water treatment facility was shut down on Saturday night due to the flooding. A boil advisory was put in place for Waverly shortly after. Although officials say the situation is improving, the order will remain in place for the next several days. This is the longest outage in the facility's history.

An 8 p.m. curfew for the City of Waverly remains in effect. Chief Gillespie said there have been a few instances of looting and trespassing around the county.

In response to the devastating flooding, the TEMA activated a state of emergency on Saturday. Gov. Bill Lee and Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty joined Sheehan and Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner Clay Bright to tour the damage on Sunday afternoon.

Watch: Gov. Lee press conference on flooding in the video player below:

"Tremendous loss of life, a number of missing people on the ground, homes washed off their foundations, cars strewn around the community," Lee described what he saw during the tour. "It is a devastating picture of loss and heartache in one of our Tennessee communities."

Lee said the Biden Administration has reached out to him to offer help.

President Joe Biden spoke about the flooding during a press briefing on Sunday.

"I want to express my deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life due to this flash flood," he said. "We’ll offer any assistance they need for this terrible moment."

In the coming days, the governor's office will put together a request for a declaration of emergency and federal assistance.