NewsWorldFloods in Tennessee leave 21 dead and around 20...

Floods in Tennessee leave 21 dead and around 20 missing

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(CNN) – At least 21 people have died and another 20 are still missing after severe flooding that hit Humphreys County in central Tennessee, local officials said.

“We have experienced devastating loss of life in the past few days,” Waverly, Tennessee Police and Fire Chief Grant Gillespie said at a news conference Sunday night.

Twenty of the victims in Saturday’s floods were confirmed dead within the city of Waverly, the county seat, a news release from the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency said. Another person’s death was confirmed in another part of the county.

Local officials reviewed the number of missing from a previous count of 45. Gillespie explained that the number was high because the storm had disrupted cell service, making it difficult for people to communicate with loved ones.

In a separate press conference in Nashville, Governor Bill Lee described a “tremendous loss of life” in Waverly, with “houses washed away and cars strewn across the community.”

“It is a devastating image of loss and pain,” he said.

The director of the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said his agency had confirmed 16 deaths, but acknowledged the discrepancy with local authorities, saying it was due to the state’s validation process.

“You may see a discrepancy in the numbers at times, what comes from the sheriff or what comes from our official reports, and it’s really just a matter of process,” said Director Patrick Sheehan. “What we know is that there are still several missing people.”

The flooding damaged infrastructure, schools, homes and other facilities in Waverly, Gillespie said, adding that he believed federal assistance would be needed for the community to recover.

The community needs “patience and prayers,” Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told reporters, asking people to stay out of the area as authorities continue search and rescue operations.

Reunification center opened at McEwen High School, Sheriff. Meanwhile, three shelters have been established in Waverly, at Waverly Church of Christ, First Baptist Church and Compassion Church, Humphreys County officials said.

A curfew will be maintained at 8 p.m. Sunday night, according to the statement.

‘A devastating event’

The deceased ranged from “children to the elderly,” Davis previously told CNN affiliate WSMV. He previously told the station that two young children were among the dead.

“They just went looking for one of my best friends and they got him back. He drowned in this,” the sheriff said excitedly. “It is difficult, but we are going to move on.”

Casey Hipshire lost her McEwen home in the flood, telling CNN Sunday night that the last day was filled with “a lot of heartbreak.”

Hipshire woke up to find the water was rising and began to pray that it would not rise further, he said.

“So it came so fast, and I packed a bag as fast as I could for all of us,” she said, referring to herself, her husband and their 8-year-old son. “The next thing I knew, the water is in my house and it reaches my chest.”

“My house fell off the foundation while I was still in it, so we had to break the kitchen window and crawl out and get on the roof as fast as we could,” he said.

Hipshire said her family knew there could be floods.

“But I don’t think anyone knew it was going to be that hard,” he said.

More than 17 inches of rain was measured at McEwen on Saturday, possibly setting a new state record for 24-hour rainfall, though the data has yet to be verified before the new record is official, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville.

Krissy Hurley, a coordinating advisory meteorologist for NWS Nashville, told CNN that’s a third of the annual precipitation in any given year.

“We got rainfall rates of 3 inches per hour for three hours straight,” Hurley said. “It’s an unheard of astronomical statistic to see after the fact.”

Forecasters began anticipating heavy rain for the area on Thursday. The initial forecast was about 6 inches of rain, he said, although the higher amounts were not out of the question.

“Once things started to go and unfolded on Saturday morning, we realized that it would be a devastating event,” he said.

Steve Smith, program director and storm watcher in Huntsville, Alabama’s WZYP, told CNN: “It looked more like a hurricane or tornado had passed through the area.”

Numerous agencies have responded

Counties affected include Humphreys, Hickman, Houston and Dickson, and drivers were urged not to attempt to cross flooded roads, according to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Numerous state agencies have responded, TEMA said, including the Tennessee National Guard, the state Department of Transportation, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Health.

Gov. Lee said Waverly has seen a “great outpouring” of help from surrounding communities, with churches opening up to be used as shelters and first responders showing up to help coordinate efforts. TEMA is working with the Tennessee National Guard to establish a donation center in Waverly, Sheehan said.

The Tennessee National Guard said Saturday night that it was deploying about 50 soldiers to respond to the severe flooding and that it sent a Blackhawk helicopter to the scene to assist with water rescues. Tactical vehicles and Humvees are also being used in rescue operations.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden pledged to support states experiencing extreme weather conditions, including Tennessee, and said the administration would offer whatever help the state needs after the floods.

“I want to begin by expressing my condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life due to this flash flood,” Biden said. “I know we are reaching out to the community and we are ready to offer them support.”

The deadly flash flood event, along with the extreme rains seen in New York City thanks to Hurricane Henri, are becoming more common due to human-caused global warming, scientists say. A report climate A recent UN report said that “the frequency and intensity of heavy rainfall events have increased since the 1950s over most of the earth’s surface.”

CNN’s Kay Jones, Andy Rose, and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.

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