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Parents of infant twins killed in Waverly flood continue to cope with loss

The parents stay strong for two children who survived
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Posted at 1:44 PM, Aug 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-22 20:46:55-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Twenty people died in one of the worst natural disasters in Tennessee history. Among those were 7-month-old twins torn from their father's arms in the Waverly flood.

Now, a year later, the parents talk about the horrible loss and how they've coped.

"We woke up and water was filling our apartment," said Matthew Rigney. He and Danielle Hall said in an instant their Waverly apartment was swamped by a tidal wave of water. "We heard a loud boom and it was through the door bursting in and water raging through our house," he said.

The parents and their four children — 7-month-old twins Ryan and Rileighana, 19-month-old Brayla and 5-year-old Maleah — were caught in the flood.

The current knocked Hall down as Rigney struggled to hold the children.

"I had the twins in my arms, Brayla at my hip and Maleah around my neck. The water, when it hit us, just pulled us under. All of us trapped underneath the bed," said Rigney.

In that instant, the twins were torn from his arms — the youngest drowning victims in the flood.

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Ryan and Rileighana

"A lot of emotions. We talk about them every day. Our house is full of their pictures," said Hall.

Images of the twins adorn the walls of the family's home now in Camden.

The memories of that horrible day are still raw, but the parents stay strong for their children who survived.

"Anger, sadness... you have to be happy for the kids. Try to hide your emotions even though you want to explode," said Hall.

The parents do share this warning about floodwaters. "It pops up fast, stronger than you think. We messed up not knowing what was happening until we were about a foot deep. In a blink of an eye it was seven foot deep."

The parents wonder if could they have done more. But, 17-inches of rain in a day caused a surge of water behind an earthen dam that just gave way. No one could have prepared for the tidal wave of water that hit without warning.

The family has since moved to Camden with money raised from a GoFundMe account. They are grateful to all those who reached out to help them and other victims of the flood.