Humphreys County sheriff explains what resulted in sudden surge of water

More than just rain that led to the deadly flood
Waverly flood damage august 2021
Posted at 4:35 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2022-04-05 12:35:48-04

HUMPHREYS COUNTY, Tenn. (WTVF) — So many people wonder: How did a massive wall of water hit without warning? The flash flooding on Saturday took the lives of 20 people including children.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis thinks he knows and thinks it started on Highway 70 just outside Waverly. "I've never seen water that massive back here," said Sheriff Davis.

MORE: How did weekend storms turn into one of the deadliest mid-state flooding event?

Davis knew that with more than a foot of rain falling in a few hours there would be flooding. But how to explain raging water so powerful that it blew open people's front doors?

Matthew Rigney and his family were caught in the flood.

"We heard a loud boom... and it was bursting in and water was raging through our house," said Rigney.

The flood claimed the lives of his twin babies. So, what led to such a powerful rush of water?

The sheriff believes there was a massive build-up of water alongside the railroad bed just outside town.

"This is the only egress of water. And this is notorious for damming up," said the sheriff pointing to a berm or railroad bed alongside Highway 70. "This is where the massive destruction of Waverly began."

The sheriff says water pressure built until the berm — rocks and all — gave way at a couple of points suddenly releasing millions of gallons of water.

"It just backed up and it's like a levee. It had to go somewhere," he said.

And, it went quickly right into downtown Waverly. One victim told the sheriff, "he literally went outside to make sure somebody was okay and he came back and was in chest-high water."

It simply happened that fast, leaving little or no time to react. And the result was a flood that claimed 20 lives.

The sheriff says more investigation needs to be done to learn what led to the deadly surge. He expects civil engineers to find ways to better direct water moving forward.