Officials said Tuesday that the weekend flooding in Tennessee that killed at least 21 people was even more destructive than previously believed, with the degree of devastation coming into sharper focus as water receded and rescue teams searched for survivors.
“Our damage is much more massive than what we thought,” Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told NPR in an interview, saying over 100 homes had been washed off foundations or destroyed—a far larger number than previously estimated.
“Yesterday we thought it was 20-something houses that had been removed from the foundations,” Davis said. “That’s not even close. Well over 100-120 houses have been moved, or are gone, no longer exist.”
Around a dozen people are believed still missing in hardest-hit Humphreys County, where rescuers with trained dogs continued to scour the area in hopes of finding people still alive.
Waverly resident Brittney McCord’s 2-year-old son was washed away in Saturday’s floods.
“It’s devastating not knowing where my baby is,” the grief-stricken mother told the Tennessean.”Not knowing if he’s going to be found. Where he is. My heart hurts so bad. I don’t want him to be left alone.”
The town of Waverly, about 55 miles west of Nashville, bore the brunt of the destruction after a storm brought 17 inches of rain in just three hours.
Humphreys County Chief Deputy Rob Edwards told The Associated Press that excavators were moving the largest pieces of debris in Waverly while drone operators searched several miles downstream for survivors.
Waverly Police Chief Grant Gillespie said Monday that the number of people believed missing has fluctuated, as people managed to get in touch with loved ones they were previously unable to reach as the flooding took out cellphone towers and phone lines.
“I’m reasonably sure that we are less than 10 right now that we are truly not sure about the whereabouts of, or that we don’t think we’ll resolve fairly easily,” Gillespie told The Associated Press.
President Joe Biden has approved a major disaster declaration sought by Tennessee officials, freeing up federal aid to help with recovery efforts, the White House said in a statement.
“I want to begin by expressing my deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life due to this flash flood,” Biden said at an Aug. 22 briefing.
“We’ve reached out to the community and we stand ready to offer them support. I’ve asked the [FEMA] Administrator to speak to Governor Lee of Tennessee right away, and we will offer any assistance they need for this terrible moment,” he added.
Reuters contributed to this report.