On Monday, residents of Tennessee inspected the mutilated wrecks of towns and communities in the central state, after a record-breaking deluge caused flash flooding that swept homes, shattered lives and left at least 22 dead and many others missing.
In Waverly, one of the hardest hit towns, about 60 miles west of Nashville, the local Department of Public Safety released a list of 25 people still missing. Among those killed were twin babies barely seven months old, who local police said were pulled from their father’s arms as water rushed into their apartment complex.
Local residents expressed astonishment at the speed of the disaster, which came and went with the same speed.
“It was amazing how far it came and how far it’s gone,” Kansas Klein, a business owner at Waverly, told The Associated Press.
A succession of thunderstorms repeatedly passed through the heart of Tennessee, depositing an astonishing 17 inches of rain in parts. The fall broke records and sparked discussions among meteorologists that the disaster could be attributed at least in part to the climate crisis which is exacerbating extreme weather events in the United States and around the world.
A 2016 US Environmental Protection Agency review warned that one of the most dangerous impacts of the climate crisis for Tennessee was likely severe flooding.
Tennesseans recounted witnessing extraordinary scenes of struggle and survival. Klein told the AP he saw two girls and a puppy hanging from a plank of wood from a bridge being washed away in a suddenly raging river.
Country star Loretta Lynn was among those mourning the loss of her ranch foreman. Wayne Spears was seen hanging from a pillar in the ranch barn with water up to his chest, before being washed away by the torrent.
“Ultimately, we will rebuild our community, our ranch, our lives and our homes. But only God could build a man like Wayne Spears, ”said Lynn. “There is just no replacement for this. “
Waverly Area Sheriff Chris David said the AP Spears was “in his barn and the next thing you know he goes from checking the animals in the barn to hanging out in the barn on people who see it floating in the stream. And that’s how quickly it went up ”.
The flooding came so suddenly on Saturday morning that people found themselves helpless to protect themselves.
“It caught everyone off guard,” said Waverly Mayor Buddy Frazier.
Houses were reduced to mounds of twisted steel and splintered timber, cars were left hanging from the treetops, entire buildings were lifted from their foundations and washed away.
“It’s just amazing,” Karen Phair, 61, whose family home was destroyed told Tennessean. “It’s a war zone.
The Tennessean described the devastating landscape.
“Destroyed mobile homes tossed about by the currents along Blue Creek. Abandoned cars pushed by floodwaters from a bridge littered the bank of the stream. Pavement slabs detached from the ground.
As the water receded as abruptly as it came, local people had to deal with such trauma and destruction. Vanessa Yates, 28, described fearing for her life and that of her baby, Coralai, as she stood over kitchen cabinets with water rushing to her ankles.
“I thought I was going to drown with my baby,” she said.
Michelle Kee, interviewed by the Tennessean at a refuge at a Baptist church in Waverly, envisioned an uncertain future.
“It’s like you’ve worked your whole life, and then nothing,” she said.