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Dozens still missing in record Tennessee floods; Southern Baptists responding

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WAVERLY, Tenn. (AP) – Search crews worked through shattered homes and tangled debris on Monday (Aug. 23), looking for dozens of people still missing after record-breaking rain sent floodwaters surging through Middle Tennessee, killing at least 22 people.

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Numerous homes in Waverly, Tenn., were knocked off their foundations from the powerful floodwaters off of Trace Creek, which runs through the town. Photo courtesy of Scott Brown

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 what forecasters had expected. Emergency workers were searching door to door, said Kristi Brown, a coordinator for health and safety supervisor with Humphreys County Schools.

First Baptist Church Waverly is one of several churches serving as a staging area.

Saturday, Pastor Scott Brown joined other church members to rescue people from the floodwaters using kayaks, fishing boats and jet skis.

“I was out there with my deacons, and we borrowed a couple hundred feet of water hose to tie me off to a tree so I could wade through the water and help others out,” Brown told Baptist Press. “But, I had to turn back when it got too dangerous. The water got too fast and too high.”

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Brown said he did not hesitate to offer help, including covering funeral costs for flood victims.

“I wanted to stamp our ‘yes’ on helping out in any way we can because we’re right here. These are our neighbors,” he said.

“We’re going to work and make sure people are taken care of. Anyone who has lost a loved one will not have to pay funeral costs. We’re helping others find new places to live. We’re trying to find how we can yoke together with others and walk in the same direction [to recovery].

“In all of this, we’ve seen everyone drop their differences and go where they’re needed to help. Everyone in town knew where to go to face the need head-on. Now all of our churches are working and coordinating together to do all we can to let Jesus shine through.”

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Waverly First Baptist has become one of many churches taking in supplies for those impacted by flooding in the middle Tennessee town. Waverly is also a staging area for several groups, including Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse. Photo courtesy of Scott Brown

Bill Lowe is the disaster relief director of the JST Baptist Association, which serves the area.

“The devastation down the middle of Waverly looks like a hurricane or tornado more than a flood,” Lowe told BP. “Multiple homes were swept from their foundation. Churches are full of evacuees, but donations have been amazing with supplies coming in from everywhere and even churches outside of town beginning to receive supplies.”

Lowe said the flooding stretches the length of the county and affected “people from all backgrounds” – from public housing to expensive neighborhoods.

“Saturday and Sunday, it was a desperate situation,” he said, “but with teams responding it’s settling down. Wes Jones, our state disaster relief director, has been amazing. He and his staff had made sure we received everything we need.”

Approximately 80 volunteers – 30 of them certified through Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief – are on site managing cleanup and recovery, laundry and showers. In addition to Southern Baptist Disaster Relief members from the JST Association, others joining the effort are Weakly County Baptist Association, Dyer County Baptist Association and Woodland Baptist Church in Brownsville, Tenn.

Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, told the Baptist and Reflector his “heart goes out to the people, pastors and ministry leaders in the flood zone.”

“I have heard the burden and grief in the voices of those I have spoken with over the weekend,” Davis said. “Words like ‘devastation’ and ‘nightmare’ were common reactions when describing the situation.

“These good people are not alone. Tennessee Baptists are responding with everything we have to offer. We will assist in the recovery and the rebuilding efforts over the long haul.”

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.

“I would expect, given the number of fatalities, that we’re going to see mostly recovery efforts at this point rather than rescue efforts,” Tennessee Emergency Management Director Patrick Sheehan said.

The Humphreys County Sheriff Office Facebook page filled with people looking for missing friends and family. Some created GoFundMe pages to collect money for victims.

The dead included twin babies who were swept from their father’s arms, according to surviving family members, and a foreman at county music star Loretta Lynn’s ranch. The sheriff of the county of about 18,000 people some 60 miles 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, shattering the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall by more than 3 inches (8 centimeters), the National Weather Service 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.

Just to the east of Waverly, the town of McEwen was pummeled Saturday with 17.02 inches of rain, smashing the state’s 24-hour record of 13.6 inches from 1982, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville, though Saturday’s numbers would have to be confirmed.

A flash flood watch was issued for the area before the rain started, with forecasters saying 4 to 6 inches of rain was possible. The worst storm recorded in this area of Middle Tennessee dropped only 9 inches of rain, said Krissy Hurley, a weather service meteorologist in Nashville.

“Forecasting almost a record is something we don’t do very often,” Hurley said. “Double the amount we’ve ever seen was almost unfathomable.”

Lowe asked for prayer as Christians respond amid the devastation.

“Pray for comfort, for those living through this to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who need Christ right now and are experiencing a lot of stress due to this. We’re representing Jesus, not ourselves, and showing the love that Jesus would show.”


From The Associated Press. May not be republished. Scott Barkley, BP national correspondent, and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, contributed to this report.