AP

FEMA administrator tours Tennessee flooding disaster

Aug 25, 2021, 1:22 PM | Updated: 1:52 pm

Flood damage is photographed from a Tennessee National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flying Gov...

Flood damage is photographed from a Tennessee National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flying Gov. Bill Lee to Waverly, Tenn., on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. (Alan Poizner/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

(Alan Poizner/The Tennessean via AP, Pool)

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.

FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee jointly toured the area on Wednesday. The first stop was Waverly First Baptist Church, which is being used as a shelter, with a table of food lining one wall and small beds lining another.

Lee became choked up when talking to those temporarily living in the shelter, as well as those who have been assisting.

“Tragedy comes in a moment. But what we’ve seen here is the intersection of tragedy and hope,” said Lee.

Lee also said President Joe Biden called him Tuesday and offered his support, noting that the Biden administration quickly approved the state’s request for an emergency declaration, which frees up federal aid to help with recovery efforts in Humphreys County.

Criswell said she spoke with Biden right after Saturday’s flooding.

“The road to recovery is going to be long, but we are here to support the governor and his team and support you with what your needs are,” Criswell said, temporarily taking her mask down so everyone could hear. “And my heart goes out to all of you.”

The small city of Waverly, about 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Nashville, was the community hit hardest by the flood. A public housing project there 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.”

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FEMA administrator tours Tennessee flooding disaster