Survivors grapple with aftermath of deadly Tennessee flood

APTOPIX_Tennessee_Flooding_02439 Cars are stacked on top of each other on the banks of Blue Creek being swept up in flood water, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days ago and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_68322 Anna Mays sits on a cot as a shelter volunteer checks on her, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn., after her home flooded recently. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days earlier and have resulted in multiple deaths and missing people as homes and rural roads were also washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_43554 Anna Mays sits on a cot at a shelter, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn., after being forced from her home while it flooded with her in inside. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days earlier and have resulted in multiple deaths and missing people as homes and rural roads were also washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_13882 Jaquita Buchanan works on salvaging items from her mother's flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Her mother escaped from the home safely, but her step-father died while assisting a neighbor. As much as 17 inches of rain hit Humphreys County Saturday, causing floodwaters to surge throughout the area killing multiple people.
Tennessee_Flooding_34675 Annie Rushing walks up to her home after it flooded and forced her into a shelter, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days ago and have resulted in multiple deaths, and missing people as homes and rural roads were also washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_40162 Josh Harrell, who came to the area to volunteer, helps remove furniture from a flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
Tennessee_Flooding_39179 A man looks at a flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
Tennessee_Flooding_10088 Suzette Worke, left, and Jaquita Buchanan, right, work on salvaging items from their mother's flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. Her mother escaped from the home safely, but her step-father died while assisting a neighbor. As much as 17 inches of rain hit Humphreys County Saturday, causing floodwaters to surge throughout the area, killing multiple people.
Tennessee_Flooding_74296 Adam Marvell helps salvage items from his step-grandmother's flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Monday, Aug. 23, 2021.
Tennessee_Flooding_24609 A woman looks at debris washed up against a bridge over a stream Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding Saturday in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_52242 Brian Mitchell, right, looks through the damaged home of his mother-in-law along with family friend Chris Hoover, left, Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding Saturday in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
APTOPIX_Tennessee_Flooding_77887 Flood damage is photographed from a Tennessee National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flying Gov. Bill Lee to Waverly, Tenn., on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021.
Tennessee_Flooding_33723 Anthony and Vanessa Yates find their wedding wreath in their flood damaged home in Waverly, Tenn., Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Heavy rains rapidly turned the creeks that run behind backyards and through downtown Waverly into raging rapids.
A shed, car, and RV came to a rest on Hwy 13, after being swept up in flood waters, shown Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days ago and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
APTOPIX_Tennessee_Flooding_87798 Flood damage is seen along Simpson Avenue in Waverly, Tenn., Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Heavy rainfall caused substantial flooding in the Humphreys County city, with multiple fatalities and dozens missing as of Sunday morning.
A car peeks out from under a house that was deposited by floodwaters at the Cooley Market in Waverly, Tenn., on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021./The Tennessean via AP)
A woman looks at debris that came to rest against a bridge over a stream Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
Kalyn Clayton, 16, surveys the damaged kitchen of a home while volunteering with his church youth group in Waverly, Tenn., Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. Rescue crews on Sunday searched for dozens of people reported missing in Tennessee after flooding from extraordinarily heavy rains left at least 10 dead.
Tennessee_Flooding_61416 Vehicles come to rest in a stream Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding Saturday in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
A mobile home and a truck trailer sit near a creek Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, after they were washed away by flood waters the day before in McEwen, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
Tennessee_Flooding_22032 Dawn Mitchell, left, looks through the damaged home of her mother Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. With her are her husband, Brian Mitchell, center, and family friend Chris Hoover. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee and have resulted in multiple deaths as homes and rural roads were washed away.
Damaged vehicles are left as a result of severe weather in Waverly, Tenn., Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021. The downpours rapidly turned the creeks that run behind backyards and through downtown Waverly into raging rapids.
Tennessee_Flooding_18427 Dustin Shadownes, of Ashland City Fire Department, searches a creek for missing persons along with a cadaver dog, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days earlier, resulting in multiple deaths, missing persons and property destroyed.
Tennessee_Flooding_70174 A woman holds a photo she found as she searches for personal items lost in recent flooding, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Although she did not recognize the person in the photo she planned on posting it on social media to reconnect it with the owner.
Tennessee_Flooding_96309 Jason Walker brings items out his aunt's house after recent flooding, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn.
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WAVERLY, Tenn. (AP) — Anna Mays woke up in a panic attack Monday, thinking she was back in the rising floodwater.

Two days ago, she had been clinging for her life to the front door of her duplex in rural Tennessee as the water inched up to her neck. Her brother was hanging onto a tree.

Then Mays realized where she was: The gym at the Waverly Church of Christ, now her temporary home alongside other victims of record-breaking rain Saturday that sent floodwaters surging through the region, killing at least 22 people.

Her story has become a familiar one in Humphreys County, and particularly the small town of Waverly. Large swaths of the community are suddenly displaced, sorting through difficult decisions about what comes next even as they relive the horror of what just happened.

“This morning I was having a panic attack and thought I was in water, and I was trying to get that way and trying to get this way. I was just scared half to death,” said Mays, who doesn’t know how to swim. “I was just, something woke me up and I thought I was in the water, and — I never have seen — I’ve seen it on TV, but I’ve never have seen it like it in life, where cars was going by.”

Mays started gathering up a few belongings after a police officer came to the door of her duplex Saturday morning, telling her to evacuate. She and her brother could see the water rising quickly. Her brother was trying to keep it out of the house by shoving towels under the door, but they were soon overwhelmed. Minutes later, the flooded creek pushed open the door and water poured into the house.

Mays’ brother went outside to try to find a way onto the roof but ended up clinging to a tree. Mays held on to the front door until they were rescued by boat, escaping with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Mays said the neighbor on the other side of the duplex lost her daughter, who was about 7 or 8 years old.

While survivors grappled with their recollections — more than 90 people stayed in shelters Sunday, according to the state’s American Red Cross chapter — rescue workers continued their arduous searches for anyone else swept away.

Authorities rummaged through heaps of debris as search and rescue teams used dogs to try to sniff out any missing people, Waverly police Chief Grant Gillespie said.

“There’s still a lot of debris in and along the creek that needs to be examined. That’s a painstaking process,” Gillespie said during a news conference. “We have to tear that apart, a lot of times, with equipment.”

The police chief said the number of people considered missing has fluctuated, as people have not been able to reach loved ones who are later confirmed to be safe.

“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 said.

Saturday’s flooding took out roads, cellphone towers and telephone lines, leaving people uncertain about whether family and friends survived the unprecedented deluge, with rainfall that more than tripled forecasts and shattered the state record for one-day rainfall. Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, coordinated health and safety supervisor with Humphreys County Schools.

Many of the missing live in the neighborhoods where the water rose the fastest, said Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis, who confirmed the 22 fatalities in his county. The names of the missing were on a board in the county’s emergency center and listed on a city of Waverly Facebook page, which is being updated as people call in and report themselves safe.

The Humphreys County Sheriff Office Facebook page filled with people looking for missing friends and family. GoFundMe pages asked for help for funeral expenses for the dead, including 7-month-old twins swept from their father’s arms as they tried to escape.

The death of the twins was confirmed by surviving family members. A foreman at country music star Loretta Lynn’s ranch also died. The sheriff of the county of about 18,000 people some 60 miles (96 kilometers) west of Nashville said he lost one of his best friends.

Up to 17 inches (43 centimeters) of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours Saturday, passing the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3 inches (8 centimeters), the National Weather Service said, though Saturday’s numbers will have to be confirmed.

School was canceled for the week, according to the sheriff’s office. Waverly Elementary and Waverly Junior High suffered extensive damage, according to Brown. About 2,000 homes in the county were without power Monday evening, utility officials said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee toured the area, calling it a “devastating picture of loss and heartache.” President Joe Biden offered condolences to the people of Tennessee and directed federal disaster officials to talk with the governor and offer assistance.

Survivors played back the harrowing moments when the water closed in.

Billy Ray Rushing was staying with his daughter, Annie Rushing, when they were told to evacuate.

“Right then and there, we got in the car and left,” he said.

The water was already over their muffler. Their neighbor, Mary, on the other side of the duplex went back inside her home but soon was calling, asking them to come back for her, Rushing said. It was too late.

“There wasn’t any way we could get back there. I hate it, but I couldn’t take the chance of her and me drowning,” he said, indicating his daughter.

That same neighbor warned Jodie Stawski, across the street, to get out before the water reached their apartment.

“But as we went, as we was driving out, we could see these people on their porches,” said Stawski on Monday. “And I think in my mind, they thought they were safe. That the water was not going to get that high. But from what I heard, it gushed at them. And we lost Miss Mary. She drowned in the process. She was our hero. She saved us.”

___

Kristin M. Hall contributed from Waverly.

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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