Twenty people died in the flooding in Middle Tennessee this weekend, Humphreys County officials confirmed Wednesday. They finalized the death toll in a Wednesday press conference and said searches have been suspended.
“We’re sad our count is at 20, but glad families have closure,” Waverly Department of Public Safety Chief Grant Gillespie said.
The efforts will now shift to cleanup.
Officials have not released names of the deceased or a timeline for doing so.
Waverly flooding victims:Family and friends reflect on the loved ones lost
Officials plan to investigate each death
Each death will get its own investigation in an effort to identify exactly how and when each person died in the flood, Gillespie said.
“We’re going to treat each one with the individual respect they deserve,” Gillespie said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been hands on in the search and recovery efforts, according to Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis. The TBI helped local enforcement identify victims using DNA.
Davis said he was thankful for the help because it allowed families to receive closure quickly.
Gov. Bill Lee, FEMA and TEMA officials visit Waverly
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and TEMA director Patrick Sheehan visited Waverly via helicopter on Wednesday afternoon. They were met by State Sen. Kerry Roberts, Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis and other officials on the ground.
The group visited sites including Waverly First Baptist Church, which is being used as a shelter, tetanus shot clinic and food distribution center. Gov. Lee choked up while addressing flood victims and relief workers there.
“Tragedy comes in a moment,” Lee said. “But what we’ve seen here is the intersection of tragedy and hope.”
He said President Joe Biden called him Tuesday to offer support and thanked him for approving the state’s request for an emergency declaration.
Criswell said she spoke to Biden on Saturday, saying “you are in his thoughts and prayers.”
“The road to recovery is going to be long, but we are here to support the governor and his team and support you with what your needs are,” Criswell said. “And my heart goes out to all of you.”
Criswell said that in one day of the federal emergency declaration being approved to allow those affected by the flood to apply for relief funds, $230,000 has been approved for those seeking it.
“Individuals should start seeing it in their bank accounts the next few days,” Criswell said.
FEMA administration says flooding caused by climate change, Lee uncertain
Criswell attributed the unprecedented flood to “the effects of climate change.”
“We’re seeing more disasters, we’re seeing more severe disasters and were seeing these weather events intensify much more rapidly,” she said.
“The best thing we can do is start to anticipate what these future risks will be … and invest in the mitigation.”
Asked during the briefing whether he believes the flood can be attributed to climate change, Lee said he wasn’t sure.
“What we do know is there was 15 inches of rain in six hours,” Lee said. “Why that occurs, I don’t know the answer to that. I would guess there are those that do, but I’m not qualified to answer that.”
Residents pick through possessions in blazing heat
Danny Waggoner has lived in Humphreys County for 61 years. He was helping coordinate volunteers and emergency crews on Wednesday after spending three days aiding search and rescue crews. He paused to talk about his experience in the blazing Tennessee heat.
What struck him as he helped search for missing people was all the possessions strewn across the woods after being swept away in the flood waters.
“You see people’s lives in these woods – pictures, clothing, shoes, trophies,” he said, choking back tears. “The thing that got me the most was Christmas tree ornaments hanging in the trees from the flood, knowing those meant so much to so many.”
Meanwhile, the Dollar Tree parking lot around him teemed with activity as dozens of emergency crews, relief agencies and food trucks assembled to organize and serve volunteers and victims. People were bringing everything from cases of water to soggy photos they found in the aftermath of Saturday’s catastrophic flooding.
Gov. Bill Lee declares formal disaster, state of emergency
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a major disaster and state of emergency declaration for Humphreys County on Wednesday. The executive order frees up state aid for residents as they repair damage from last weekend’s deadly flooding.
The move gives flexibility to the Humphreys School District to implement its Continuous Learning Plan, an option that would allow virtual school for students, as well as other flexibilities.
It also allows qualified medical professionals and contractors licensed outside the state of Tennessee to assist in treatment and relief efforts for disaster victims. Victims directly affected by the disaster who are not Tennessee residents but would otherwise be eligible for state assistance are eligible for assistance.
The order also allows the Department of Safety and other state and county officials to waive fees for residents needing to get replacement driver’s licenses, motor vehicle titles and other paperwork.
The state-level aid will supplement federal aid announced Tuesday. President Joe Biden approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Tennessee, providing Federal Emergency Management Agency aid to recovery efforts in Humphreys County. On Wednesday, the federal disaster declaration was expanded to Dickson, Hickman and Houston Counties, meaning residents there are also eligible for aid.
Waverly bustling with residents, volunteers
The parking lot outside Dollar Tree on West Main Street was teeming with activity Wednesday morning. Dozens of emergency vehicles, trucks and trailers dotted the lot as traffic flowed by.
Across the street, patrons filtered in and out of Mama’s Table — a local specialty tea and smoothie shop that has transformed into a place for flood victims to gather and get a free meal. Co-owner Kristin Carter guessed that for the past few days they’ve fed more than a 1,000 people, a sharp uptick from the “couple hundred” people they normally serve in a week.
“As long as people keep helping, keep donating, we’ll keep feeding,” Carter said. “If it takes a month, we’ll keep feeding for free. However long it takes.”
A mile down the road, Humphreys County EMA Grey Collier spokesperson was busy coordinating with local officials at their command operations, which is stationed at the Humphreys County 911 Center.
As of Tuesday night, official said 18 people had died and three remained missing after extreme floods struck Humphreys County on Saturday.
Dockets for the rest of the week at the Humphreys County Courthouse in downtown Waverly have been largely reset for next month.
On Wednesday, although the building had power and technically remained open, most business was still on hold. Circuit and General Sessions Courts remained closed Wednesday, but Chancery Court was open.
Circuit Court Judge Suzanne M. Lockert-Mash was working from the Waverly facility on Wednesday, her staff confirmed. A criminal docket set for Wednesday was moved to Sept. 20, while Thursday and Friday’s chancery dockets were moved to Sept. 22 and 23 respectively.
Across the hall from the judge’s office, the doors of District Attorney General Ray Crouch’s office also remained dark, staff confirmed. Anyone looking to contact prosecutors should reach out to the main office in Charlotte at 615-789-5021.
1 in 15 homes damaged by floods
Almost one in 15 homes were damaged by extreme flooding in Humphreys County.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 523 homes in the county were affected by the floods, including 272 completely destroyed, according to information provided to The Tennessean. Eight public facilities and 44 commercial properties also suffered damage.
According to the 2020 Census, Humphreys County had 8,849 housing units, including 7,599 that were occupied.
Reunification center closes
The reunification center established at McEwen High School closed Wednesday.
The center opened almost immediately after the floods in nearby McEwen, another city in Humphreys County. The county sheriff’s office repots that 139 families were reunited there.
Several people remain missing Wednesday.
Nashville dog trainer helps search
Wil Moore and Ripley, a 7-month-old Belgian Malinois took a walk in the river Tuesday. He owns a dog training business in Nashville, Moore’s Dog Training.
Ripley is the niece of Josie, his dad’s (Rusty Moore) 15-year-old search and rescue/cadaver trained dog.
“When she (Josie) was in her prime, she was a heck of a dog,” Moore said. “Ripley has big shoes to fill.”
Scratching Ripley’s ears before giving her a treat, he told her, “We’re so proud of you.”
Moore said he felt compelled to come out on Tuesday because all the bad news in the world made him want to help people.
“And then with this, right in our backyard, we just wanted to try to help,” he said.
Moore has been training Ripley since she was nine weeks old and recently started adding cadaver scenting skills to her repertoire. At her young age, he focuses on making sure she’s having fun.
“She thinks this is just one big game of hide and seek,” he said. “The more fun she’s having, the better she’ll be at finding things.”
Ripley is sniffing for “the last human scent” in the area to track.
The pair didn’t find anything of note on Tuesday, Moore said.
‘Catastrophic flooding’:Aerial shots show extent of flooding in Waverly and Middle Tennessee
TEMA provides new resource information for flood victims
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency provided an update on recovery efforts Tuesday afternoon and provided information on relief resources to residents affected by the storm.
President Joe Biden approved a Major Disaster Declaration for Tennessee Tuesday, which releases federal disaster assistance for the state to supplement recovery efforts. On Wednesday, the federal disaster declaration was expanded to Dickson, Hickman and Houston Counties, meaning residents there are also eligible for aid.
The declaration also makes federal funding available to residents of Humphreys County, which includes: grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated areas can begin applying for assistance by registering online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 TTY.
More information can also be found at FEMA.gov/disaster.
Other agencies are providing food, government services and other assistance on the ground in Humphreys County.
- The Tennessee Department of Healthis providing tetanus shots to individuals, including first responders, at Waverly Church of Christ (438 W Main St.) and Waverly First Baptist Church (300 E Main St.). The two churches are also providing cooked food.
- The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security will operate a mobile unit through Aug. 27 to issue duplicate or photo IDs for affected residents. The Driver Services unit will be stationed at McEwen High School (335 Melrose St.) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through Aug. 27, with future dates and locations possible.
McEwen High School also has many essential items available, including canned food, water, cleaning supplies, clothes, shoes, pillows, blankets, diapers, toiletries, baby items, laundry detergent, gloves, bread, pet food and phone chargers.
- The Tennessee National Guard Armory (1421 US-70) has canned food, water and cleaning supplies.
- Free well water testing is available. Call 615-426-0216 for more information.
Death toll at 18; why the missing person count is fluctuating
Gillespie confirmed there are 18 dead and 3 missing in Humphreys County Tuesday afternoon. That’s down from a count of 21 dead earlier in the day on Tuesday.
Gillespie said the changing total was the result of a counting error at the hospital, calling it “just an honest mistake.”
Three of those identified as victims of the flooding died of natural causes at the hospital around the time of the storms. They were misclassified and are separate from the three people still missing.
The list of missing people had included those who were seen swept away in the floodwaters, but also people family members have not been able to reach after the flooding, according to Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Grey Collier.
Cell service, internet and power have been knocked out or are patchy throughout the county. Local, state and federal officials are working together as relief and recovery efforts continue in Humphreys County.
Where to find help, give help for flood victims
TEMA launched a website for relief Monday, which includes resources for victims and those who want to give or help. The site can be found at tn.gov/tema/get-involved/middle-tennessee-flooding-recovery.html. A help line is also available for survivors to request volunteer clean-up assistance at 615-338-7404.
Flood survivors can also register and let family and friends know they are safe through the Red Cross at safeandwell.org.
Looking for more ways to help? Here’s our rundown of what you can do.
Reporters Adam Friedman, Mariah Timms and Stella Yu contributed to this report.