WAVERLY, Tenn. – Keith Daniel is no stranger to floods.
He’s dealt with two other floods near his home, just a few blocks from the Waverly town center, over the past 11 years, but he said Saturday’s was different.
“In the past, it’s risen slowly, and we have time, but this time it all came at once,” Daniel said. “Before I knew it, the water broke a window, and we were trapped.”
Search-and-rescue efforts remained underway Tuesday in the town of Waverly and throughout Humphreys County, where around 17 inches of record-shattering rain fell, according to reports from the National Weather Service.
At least 21 people were killed as the storm roared through the rural county, home to about 20,000 people 70 miles west of Nashville. Twenty deaths were within the city of Waverly, the county seat, authorities said.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Tennessee, which releases federal disaster assistance for the state to supplement recovery efforts. The declaration also makes federal funding available to residents of Humphreys County.
Daniel, his wife and daughter rode out Saturday’s catastrophic flooding in their attic. When the waters subsided, it had ruined everything in the house.
As sisters Jacquita Buchanan and Suzette Worke cleaned out their mother and stepfather’s house, they said this round of flooding wasn’t like anything before.
“Our mother knows if water reaches a certain point, they need to leave,” Buchanan said. “During this one, the water all came all at once.”
Their mother’s house was sitting on top of a neighbor’s smashed car, several feet from its original foundation. The only reason it hadn’t drifted further down the road was that a tree in the front yard pinned it in place.
Buchanan said their father managed to get their mother to safety, but was one of 21 who died in the flooding when he went back to help other neighbors.
The dead included twin babies wrenched from their father’s arms, according to surviving family members, and a foreman at country music star Loretta Lynn’s ranch.
On Monday, the water had subsided in parts of Waverly, a town of 4,300 people, with the magnitude of the destruction only starting to reveal itself. Homes and cars were destroyed, with some having moved blocks away from their original locations.
Fires from blown electrical and gas lines still burned Monday evening. Volunteers from local law enforcement agencies and churches went from house to house to help people clear out rotting cabinets and ruined appliances.
But others were still searching for lost loved ones, waiting in anguish for news.
“At this time, we are communicating with families and working with agencies regarding victims and missing persons,” Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis said in a news release Monday night.
Jeff Buchanan, who has lived in Waverly his whole life, was helping clear out a family member’s house Monday.
Buchanan said the town “will never be the same” after this flood.
“This has changed Waverly forever,” he said.
Contributing: Stella Yu