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Previous story Twin babies were 'swept away' in Tennessee floods that killed at least 22 Next story


Story by Tim Stelloh - Story Source
Published on Tuesday August 24, 2021 - 10:11 AM
 
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In 1996 the Willamette River experienced major flooding, threatening downtown Portland and seriously damaging the navigation locks at Willamette Falls. It was one of the more serious floods of the twentieth century.

And now Tennessee is experiencing similar floods:

The 7-month-old twins who died in catastrophic flooding in Tennessee over the weekend were "swept away" with all of their parents' belongings, a relative said Monday.

The babies, Rileigh and Ryan, were their family's "precious angels," the relative, Jeanna Hall, said in a statement.

Two older siblings survived, Hall said.

The children's father, Matthew Rigney, told WTVF-TV of Nashville that he awoke to a sudden surge of water that inundated the area Saturday after record rainfall. The surge burst through the door of his family's apartment.

The children's mother, Daniella Hall, escaped through a window to seek help as water deluged their home, Rigney told the station. The family's 5-year-old was hanging from Rigney's neck, a 19-month-old was on his hip, and the twins were in his arms, he said.

"The water, when it hit us, just pulled us under, all of us trapped underneath a bed," Rigney told the station, adding: "I wish there was something I could have done."


Background

A stalled frontal boundary west of Nashville led to training thunderstorms during the early morning hours of August 21, producing very heavy rainfall rates across the counties of Stewart, Houston, Dickson, Humphreys, and Hickman. Rain started shortly after midnight and intensified throughout the morning, quickly filling up area streams and creeks. By daybreak, numerous homes and businesses had been flooded in Humphreys County, leading to evacuations and water rescues. A rain gauge operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority in McEwen recorded 17.02 inches of rain, setting a daily rainfall record in Tennessee. This broke the previous record of 13.6 inches recorded in Milan in 1982. The previous highest daily record rainfall in Middle Tennessee was 9.45 inches in Franklin in May 2010, and the two-day total for Nashville in 2010 was 13.57 inches.

Eastern Humphreys County, around the McEwen area, received substantially more rainfall than Waverly. However, the headwaters of Trace Creek originate in eastern parts of the county, with all the water draining westward through Waverly. Areas of Houston, central Humphreys, and northern Hickman counties still received upwards of 8 to 10 inches of rain during the event.

A level three state of emergency was declared by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency for Dickson, Hickman, Houston, and Humphreys counties in response to the flooding event. As many as 4,200 customers were left without power by that afternoon, 3,500 of which were in Humphreys County. According to TEMA, approximately 700 homes were flooded during the event, mostly in Waverly.

Humphreys County/Waverly Areas near the town of McEwen received the most rainfall from the event, totaling over 15 inches in some places. Much of the floodwater exited the area westward along Trace Creek, causing large swells which inundated much of Waverly, just to the west. Waverly had received comparatively less rainfall than McEwen but was flooded by runoff from upstream. In Waverly, many homes and businesses became flooded after 6:00 a.m., prompting evacuations and water rescues. Waverly Elementary School was inundated with several feet of water, and the Humphreys County 911 center was rendered inoperable by the flooding. Roads into Waverly became impassable, with crews trying to perform rescue operations unable to reach some areas. Cell phone service in the area was disrupted as well, complicating initial response and recovery efforts. The county water system was reported down by the Humphreys County Sheriff, and a boil water advisory was issued by the Waverly Department of Public Safety. Just west of town, Waverly Central High School was impacted, with the football field, stadium, weight room, and locker room all being destroyed by the flood.

Roads in Waverly such as U.S. Route 70, Tennessee State Route 13, and Main Street were rendered impassable into Saturday evening due to residual flooding and debris. Flooding, debris, and traffic left U.S. 70 mostly closed from west of Waverly eastward into Dickson County, in addition to CSX railroad traffic. Numerous washed out and flooded roads prevented search and rescue and various news crews from arriving in Waverly until hours later. donated gear to Waverly Central High School to replace items lost in the flooding. South of Waverly, Hurricane Creek greatly flooded the community of Hurricane Mills and Loretta Lynn's Ranch. The ranch lost buildings and structures, in addition to a roadway being washed away and many fences being taken down. After trying to retrieve a tractor from rising floodwaters, a ranch foreman was swept away and found a short time later. East of the ranch, fter flooding from Hurricane Creek and Tumbling Creek, Tennessee State Route 230 remained closed for several days as officials cleared debris and assessed damage to the roadway.

TN 48 at Garner Creek in Hickman County Numerous roads were impassable by high water or washed completely away during the flooding, especially around the Pinewood community, where a church was inundated and an RV park was swept away along the Piney River. Tennessee State Route 48 was flooded and washed out by Garner Creek and the Piney River, and Interstate 40 was flooded in several sections in northwestern Hickman County.

Numerous homes and businesses in the town of Dickson was flooded, along with many rural areas of southwest Dickson County. Areas along the Piney River were flooded as the river made its way south into Hickman County. Tennessee State Route 48 was made impassable by floodwaters in numerous places. Crews in Dickson County responded to 15 rescue calls using four water rescue teams. A shelter was opened at the Dickson County YMCA for those displaced by flooding.

By that evening, ten deaths were confirmed in Humphreys County by the local sheriff, along with several people reported missing. By the morning of August 22, the death toll had risen to 17, and over 40 people had been reported missing. Later, the count rose to 22 fatalities as missing people were located. By the morning of August 23, fewer than 20 people were still considered missing, and by August 24, the count of missing was down to seven. The death toll was later revised down to 18 authorities completed more accurate counts.

Initial relief efforts included TEMA opening shelters in Waverly, Dickson, and Centerville to house displaced families. Search and rescue crews arrived from Nashville and many surrounding counties in the state to aid operations in Waverly. On August 23, Joe Biden approved a federal disaster declaration for Humphreys County, freeing federal funds to assist in recovery efforts. Many groups and organizations came to the aid of residents, such as the Red Cross, which assisted in TEMA and local partners in setting up shelters and bringing in supplies. The Mount Juliet High School football team The twins' bodies were found in the apartment, the station reported. They were among 22 people who authorities in Humphreys County have said died in the flooding.