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'It will become home again' Waverly residents look to the future, as they remember the flood one year later

Posted at 1:00 PM, Aug 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-23 07:06:27-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — It seems cruel, that a wall of water could claim 20 lives, destroy dozens of businesses, hundreds of homes and shatter this town's sense of safety — all in a matter of minutes. And yet, when it comes to the recovery, time has moved so much slower.

The legions of volunteers have gone home, while far too many Waverly residents like Debra Ashton can't say the same. "I was trying to focus on the rebuild, and what was next, the next chapter. But you can’t help but remember of what was here, what’s gone," Ashton said, through tears.

Waverly One Year Later
20 crosses in front of Waverly City Hall remember the 20 lives lost during the August 2021 flood.

When the water began to rise on that fateful day, a neighbor recorded video of Ashton standing on the roof of her truck. "A wave in the middle of this ocean here thrusts me off the top of my truck about 8-10 feet in the water. Of course, I go under and kept going under and I said, 'God you’ve got to provide me an anchor,'" said Ashton, back in 2021. "Well suddenly, here it comes!"

Read more: Woman survives Waverly flood by clinging to piece of wood

She latched onto a piece of wood to keep her head above water, as she traveled nearly four blocks. Eventually, she was able to climb onto a roof where three others were waiting for help. "They said -- 'Debra how are we going to get down from here?' I said, 'well God didn’t save us to leave us up here for the rest of our life. God’s going to send us a helicopter,'" said Ashton.

Ashton told NewsChannel 5, by the grace of God, that helicopter arrived and carried them to safety. But when she finally made it home, she found her house and her childhood home next door, reduced to rubble. That's why she initially started looking for homes far away from Trace Creek.

"I probably told you last time, I could never live back here. Well…," said Ashton, "this is home to me. You know, I played as a little girl at that house. My daughter played as a little girl at that house."

Red piles of dirt mark where Ashton's new house will one day stand. Yet just across the street, several still stand empty. "I tried to count one day. There’s probably 60 homes gone over in this area," she said.

Others are waiting for word from their insurance agencies or have left town altogether. "There’s a lot of my friends that have had to move away," said Ashton.

She finds that incredibly frustrating. "There is lots of angry people here in Humphreys County. You know, they’re just angry. They want somebody to blame for the flood. Who caused the flood? Who knows who caused the flood? It happened," said Ashton.

That being said, it's not fair to say Waverly is wavering completely. Just down the street at the town's only locally-owned grocery store, the Waverly Cash Saver, business is back. The store owners give all the credit to members of the community rolling up their sleeves.

"It’s probably in the thousands of hours here with people working and volunteering," said John Curtis, the co-owner of the store. "When we told them what we needed to do, some of them spent months down here helping us."

"We’ve missed our grocery store," said Linda Miles, a frequent shopper at the Cash Saver.

"I’ve gotten hugged I don’t know how many times today. They’re so thankful we’re back open," said Lila Jones, one of the employees at the store.

There are also residents like Lindsey Daniel, who had to live out of a camper for months. She and her family have finally moved back into their fully restored home. "If we didn’t have all the help that we had, we wouldn’t be where we’re at," said Daniel.

Because even though the timing of this call can feel so cruel, for residents like Debra Ashton, restoring Waverly to its former glory is well worth the wait. "It will become home again," said Ashton. "Something for me to look at that’s beautiful. I mean I can envision it in my mind."