WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — Schools are closed for the week in Humphreys County after multiple school buildings sustained flood damage for the third time in 11 years, school officials say.
"We're used to some light flooding, but nothing like this," Humphreys Co Schools Transportation Director Jim Byrum told NewsChannel 5's Rebecca Schleicher Tuesday, "there's no words or pictures that could describe what we've seen."
He says the decision on when students will return to school will be made on a day-by-day basis after administrators meet this weekend.
Waverly Elementary School and Waverly Junior High School, along with the Board of Education building, were all flooded. At least 15 buses were submerged in water.
Officials say it will take some time for crews to thoroughly clean and dry out the two schools. It's still unclear if students will return to the current buildings or if portable classrooms will be installed instead, said Junior High Principal Clayton Callicott.
"Quite frankly I don’t see us coming in this building for a long time, if ever," he said.
Roads and bridges will also need to be restored to allow students to get to school.
Transportation director Byrum said he and the Schools Superintendent, along with others, had to take refuge on the roof of one of the buildings during the flash flood.
They arrived Saturday to set up sand bags and prep the flood walls during the heavy rain. In the past, water has trickled through the hallways. They were not prepared for the fast-moving water that rose so quickly they had to use a ladder to get to the roof.
"It went ankle deep to chest deep in about five to seven minutes," said Byrum.
Other counties have reached out to offer support and supply extra buses when they are needed. Byrum is grateful for the outpouring of support, and says it means there will be enough buses to transport the 1600 kids who ride the bus to school every day.
But it will be a long road ahead. Almost everything in the classrooms, including materials teachers buy with their own money, is ruined.
"I walked through the halls of classrooms and that’s all gone," Byrum said, "they (teachers) won't be in until later this week...and that’s when the heartbreak is going to start, Going into next week trying to start figuring out how to replace a lot of those things."
The deadly flood also underscored a larger issue: the schools are located adjacent to Trace Creek. And administrators shudder to think what could have happened if students were at school at the time.
"As a Transportation Director there was no way I could’ve gotten buses back to those schools or got those children out of those buildings quick enough if it would’ve been 24 hours earlier," Byrum said, "that’s one of the main concerns."
It was top of mind for Principal Callicott as well.
"The level of the water is higher than my own children," he said, “praise God we were not in session when this happened."
Staff hope state education officials can help them come up with new options for the future. Tennessee Education Commissioner Dr. Penny Schwinn toured the damage this week.
"We can't allow it to happen again," said Byrum.