Lawsuit: CSX Transportation caused 'deadly tidal wave' leading to 2021 Waverly flooding

Waverly flooding sky 5 8/21/21
Posted at 12:07 PM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-05 20:11:57-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of family members of those who died in the 2021 Waverly flooding alleging CSX Transportation, a rail company, caused a "deadly tidal wave."

Catastrophic flooding hit the city of Waverly and surrounding areas on August 21, 2021. Twenty people were killed.

The lawsuit names CSX and two property owners near the rail line, claiming they knew about debris that was blocking culverts, which contributed to a "tidal wave" effect during the flash flooding.

"The deadly tidal wave was formed by millions of gallons of water that became bottled up behind the CSX railroad bridge crossing over Trace Creek. The water backed up because CSX allowed various debris to clog its culvert under the bridge, which substantially impeded the creek's natural flow," the lawsuit reads.

CSX is accused of failing to "properly maintain the culvert free of debris and other obstructions in the years, months, weeks and days leading up to the August 21, 2021 rainstorm."

Two property owners are named in the lawsuit for allegedly "failing to meet their duties as landowners." The lawsuit said James and Sherry Hughey, who own land on Highway 70 E., knew or should have known that CSX's culvert was blocked by debris and could not handle the volume of water flowing toward the Trace Creek Bridge.

"Through years of inaction, the Hugheys encouraged CSX to persist in its willful, wanton, reckless and deliberate misuse of their property despite the danger such use posed to the residents of Waverly," the lawsuit says.

View the lawsuit here.

The lawsuit represents 10 families of 11 of those killed. They are seeking $150 million in compensatory damages and $300 in punitive damages for the fatalities and personal injuries caused by the flooding.

As a part of the news conference announcing the lawsuit, family members spoke to reporters about their emotions 8 months after the flood. "We will never be the same," said Tracy Kilburn, who lost her husband. "I feel the railroad is responsible and should be held accountable for that tragedy."

"It happened so fast and there was no way of us getting out," said Michelle Feliciano, the mother of 7 year old Lucy Conner who died in the floods. "I constantly remember hearing my daughter’s last call out for me and I couldn’t get her. It haunts me every day."

"The past 8 months has been, it’s been hard. It’s been hard dealing with it. Our family has struggled to stay together and my two year old she might have a skull fracture from that incident. That’s all I can say," said Matthew Rigney, the father of the two twins who were swept from his arms.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told NewsChannel 5 in the days following the flooding that he believed water alongside the railroad bed built up and gave way, releasing millions of gallons of water into the city.

Between 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 that day, shattering the state's 24-hour rainfall record.

PHOTOS: Heavy rainfall causes severe flooding in Middle Tennessee

Six months after the flooding, survivors were still living in motels and RVs.

CSX issued the following statement to NewsChannel 5 about the new lawsuit:

“Our most heartfelt thoughts are with the families whose lives were tragically impacted by this historic weather event. While we can’t comment on any specific allegations of the lawsuit, it is important to point out that the significant rain storm in August of 2021 that resulted in the catastrophic flooding of many communities in Middle Tennessee, including Waverly, was an unprecedented and extraordinary event. CSX track and related infrastructure is maintained and regularly inspected in accordance with CSX policies, which meet or exceed federal regulations.”

CSX Spokesperson