Twin toddlers are among those who tragically lost their lives as the city of Waverly, Tennessee and surrounding counties were devastated by catastrophic flooding that struck without warning on Saturday.
On Sunday, Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis said that the death toll in the county is now 22.
In one particularly tragic incident, two of the dead appeared to be twin toddlers who were swept away from their father, Sheriff Davis told NBC affiliate WSMV in Nashville. The twins were swept underwater as flooding hit their apartment complex, the Daily Mail reported. The bodies of siblings Ryan and Rieligh Rigney have been recovered.
Waverly’s mayor says that 42 people are currently missing. Search efforts continue, with most people saying that they were caught totally off guard when 17 inches of rain fell on the country in 24 hours — much of it within a six-hour period.
Mayor Wallace Frazier said: “It was something like the quickness of a tornado I guess. Someone described it as a tidal wave.”
The rainfall total shattered the Tennessee record for a single day by more than three inches, according to the National Weather Service.
President Joe Biden began remarks at the White House intended to address the Afghan evacuation and Tropical Storm Henri by first addressing the tragedy in Tennessee.
“We’ve reached out to the community and we stand ready to offer them support,” the president said after offering his sincere condolences. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been asked to reach out to Governor Bill Lee.
More severe weather hit the area later that night, further complicating the situation. The Tennessee National Guard was activated to assist with water rescues.
Images on social media show damaged buildings and cars overturned having been swept away by the floodwaters.
At the Cash Saver grocery in Waverly, employees stood on desks, registers and a flower rack as the waters from the creek that’s usually 400 feet (120m) from the store rushed in after devastating the low-income housing next door.
The flooding in rural areas took out roads, cellphone towers, and telephone lines, leaving families uncertain about whether their loved ones survived the unprecedented deluge.
Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, a coordinator for health and safety supervisor with Humphreys County Schools.
Cellular service remains spotty and a boil water order is in effect for both Waverly and Bon Aqua.
Several roadways are closed due to flooding and debris and three schools were impacted by the flooding.
Governor Lee has toured the impacted area, stopping on Main Street in Waverly where some homes were washed off their foundations and people were sifting through their water-logged possessions.
In addition to the National Guard, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Department of Transportation, and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency are assisting local officials with search and response and traffic control operations.
The hardest-hit areas saw double the rain that area of Middle Tennessee had in the previous worst-case scenario for flooding, meteorologists said.
Lines of storms moved over the area for hours, wringing out a record amount of moisture — a scenario scientists have warned may be more common because of global warming.
With additional reporting by the Associated Press
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