Rescuers search for people still missing after Tennessee


Search crews descending from all over Tennessee in Humphreys County were advancing urgently on Tuesday to find their whereabouts unknown after the devastating weekend flood, fearing further casualties.

At least 21 people died in the flash flooding, which climate scientists had warned, and about 10 are still missing, officials said.

Chief Grant Gillespie of the Waverly Department of Public Safety told reporters that crews used heavy equipment to trample mountains of debris, which people feared could still be trapped.

“It’s a laborious process,” he said.

The flood struck a rural area with rivers, creeks and rugged forests in and around Humphreys County, about 90 minutes west of Nashville. Up to 17 inches of rain fell on Saturday, shattering the state’s 24-hour record by more than 3 inches.

One reason flooding is so deadly is that such smaller-scale storms can be more difficult to predict than larger weather systems, such as hurricanes, which are tracked in part by radar and satellite data. Any heavy rainfall that produces heat can cause forecast models to perform poorly.

“It’s kind of a worst-case scenario because it’s a small weather system that is happening and evolving rapidly,” said Gary Lackmann, professor of atmospheric science at North Carolina State University. “It’s going to be really hard to get a lot of lead time or forecast alerts for these types of events.”

Beyond human loss, physical destruction was nearly impossible to understand. Entire neighborhoods were torn apart. Some houses that were still intact were filled with mud and the putrid stench left behind by the water.

In Waverly, the center of destruction, suffering swept through the close-knit community of some 4,100 people.

Terri Owen remembered standing on her toes in the middle of the storm on Saturday, trying to keep her head above the rising water. He could see the woman across the street holding onto a pole on her front porch, her cries for help punctuated by piercing cries. Two days later, the woman’s voice was still in his head.

“We can’t help you!” Miss Owen remembered yelling.

The water was angry. Stoves, refrigerators, and cars were whipped. The column is loosened, said Mrs. Owen, and the screams intensified. The entire house has been lowered from the moorings and the block has been moved down. The woman died, her adult son died, too.

“God has never given me more grace than the woman who lost her life,” said Ms. Owen, as she sat on her friend’s muddy front porch and lowered her sunglasses to wipe her eyes. “I was just in a different place.”


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