Photos courtesy of Scott Brown

Search continues for victims of deadly Tennessee flooding, recovery efforts underway

EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was updated on Aug. 27 to reflect new information on the death toll and the number of missing people.

Eighteen people are confirmed dead and three were still missing as of Aug. 24 in Middle Tennessee after heavy rains on Aug. 21 caused devastating flash floods.

Up to 17 inches of rain fell in Humphreys County in less than 24 hours, according to the National Weather Service.

Pastor Scott Brown of First Baptist Church Waverly, said he received an emergency alert sometime early Saturday morning, but like many, he assumed it was just a precaution.

When the rain began, “it fell so fast and so heavy,” Brown told TAB Media.

One church member told Brown he had gotten out of bed and was drinking coffee when he saw water coming in under his door.

“By the time he got his wife up, the water was up to their waists,” Brown said. “We’ve got cars across town, houses swept off foundations, children swept away, loved ones gone. In my nightmares or any film, I’ve never seen anything that compares to the power, the suddenness of what happened here.”

Early reports put the number of dead at 22 with dozens missing. Waverly police Chief Grant Gillespie on Aug. 24 updated the death toll to 18 confirmed deaths. Three were still missing. Gillespie said officials followed up on each case to confirm the numbers and said the earlier higher death toll was “an honest mistake” but is “still a tremendous loss of life.”

Widespread damage

Brown said the church didn’t sustain any damage, but “you can walk 100 feet away from us and there are houses in the middle of the road.”

Wes Jones, disaster relief specialist for Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief, said the communities of Waverly, Dickson and McEwen and the surrounding areas were hardest hit by the flooding.

Because these are small communities, “no one is going to be unaffected” by the loss of life and property, Jones told TAB Media.

For now, TBDR has set up an incident command post and shower trailer at Trace Creek Baptist Church in New Johnsonville to assist flood victims in Humphreys County, according to the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector.

Beginning Thursday, Jones said, a mass feeding unit should be ready to serve an estimated 3,000-5,000 meals daily.

Recovery teams and chaplains also have been deployed as the damage assessment has begun.

Brown said members of his church quickly set up a shelter and began helping people with needs on Saturday even while rescue efforts were underway.

Today, in addition to TBDR, the Red Cross and National Guard are working from the church, along with nurses who are helping with medical needs, he said. Church members are receiving donations and giving them out as they can.

But there will be more needs in the longer term, both leaders said.

700 homes damaged or destroyed

Local officials estimate 500-600 homes will have to be rebuilt, and at least 100 more homes will need major repairs.

Jones said it is unlikely many, if any, of the residents have flood insurance because normally, it’s “just a creek” flowing through the area.

As a result, the most tangible need in the short term will be funds to help people relocate, likely to other counties where housing is available.

Brown said a fund established at FBC Waverly likely will be used to help those who are displaced.

How to pray

In addition to funds to help with those immediate and long-term needs, here are ways to pray for the hurting and those who are helping:

  1. Pray for FBC Waverly and other churches as they minister to those who have lost loved ones, homes and property. Pray the churches will serve the community well and will have opportunities to share the gospel in God-honoring ways.
  2. Pray for those who are still searching for loved ones. Pray that they find the rest of the missing people.
  3. Pray for those who are displaced. Hundreds of people have lost everything. Pray that get back to some sense of normalcy.
  4. Pray that God will work through chaplains to provide His peace and comfort. Pray that those who do not know Christ would come to know Him.
  5. Pray for all those who will be responding. Pray that the right locations to set up will be identified, that equipment will work correctly

Brown noted that even amid so much destruction, there was also “great beauty.”

“I saw people risking their lives for others just because they were in great need,” he said. “In the midst of great horror, none of the things that usually divide us mattered. All that mattered was we were in this together. There was somebody was in need, and we were going to do all we could to love them, to hurt with them, to risk for them and to ease their suffering.”

In a Facebook post, Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief officials the state has offered assistance to Tennessee, but outside teams are not needed at this time. For more updates, follow Alabama Baptist Disaster Relief on Facebook or visit ABDR’s website by clicking here.

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