FEMA administrator tours Tennessee flooding disaster

Tennessee Flooding
Posted at 4:21 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 16:21:16-04

WAVERLY, Tenn. (AP) -- The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency toured flood-devastated areas of Middle Tennessee on Wednesday to assess the damage from a weekend deluge that caught residents off guard in the morning hours, killing more than a dozen people and leaving hundreds homeless.

Saturday's flooding took out houses, roads, cellphone towers and telephone lines, with rainfall that more than tripled forecasts and shattered the state record for one-day rainfall. More than 270 homes were destroyed and 160 took major damage, according to the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency.

The state received approval from President Joe Biden for a major disaster declaration, which frees up federal aid to help with recovery efforts in Humphreys County, the White House said in a statement Tuesday.

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee jointly toured the area on Wednesday.

Hardest hit was the small city of Waverly, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Nashville, where a public housing project along the banks of Trace Creek was in ruins.

The Waverly Housing Authority was working on Wednesday to try to find housing for the residents in nearby towns, executive director Sherry Lynch said.

In the chaotic aftermath of the flood, there was confusion about even the number of people killed. Humphreys County reported on Wednesday that 19 people had died in the flood with one person still missing, while the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency was reporting 17 people deceased. The number had previously climbed as high as 22, but some people were counted twice and others were counted who died from non-flood-related causes.

Clean-up efforts and the search for the missing continued on Wednesday, with searches using excavators and chainsaws to clear debris in the normally shallow creek. Meanwhile, residents picked through their mud-caked possessions and scavenged in bushes for belongings that were washed away. Strewn across the ground were the remnants of their lives -- Christmas wreaths, T-shirts, VHS taps, baseball cards. Every vertical object left standing was plastered with debris, wrapped tightly around poles and trees in the direction of the current.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis spoke to reporters on Tuesday about the toll the disaster has taken on residents.

"You've seen us get a little emotional. You have to remember, these are people we know, people's families, people we grew up with -- just the people of our small town. It's just very close to us."