Flash flooding turned deadly in western Middle Tennessee on Saturday as storms dropped more than 10 inches of rain.
The intense storm triggered a state of emergency as water rescue teams raced throughout the day to help residents. Yards, streets and buildings disappeared in some areas; communications and water services were disrupted; and power outages were still impacting roughly 10,000 customers across Dickson, Hickman, Houston and Humphreys counties on Sunday morning.
As of Saturday night, 10 people had been found dead in Humphreys County and authorities there were worried about as many as 40 people missing. The sheriff’s office provided the figures to multiple news outlets and WPLN News confirmed the toll from Dickson County Chief Deputy Teddy Murphy.
“Pray for all those people, because they’re definitely going to need it. Over the next day or two, we’re just praying that they can find everybody,” he said.
Murphy said he saw numerous vehicles turned over, homes completely flooded and even major roadways washed away while he worked in the county on Saturday.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
In fact, no one in Tennessee has seen such intense rain. Some areas experienced about a fourth of their annual rainfall in a matter of hours. An accumulation of 17 inches was reported in the McEwen area — likely an all-time record for a single day in the state, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville.
“Today is really an unprecedented flash flood event for Middle Tennessee,” said Sam Shamburger, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Nashville. “Today is just astonishing.”
The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee has again activated its Tennessee Emergency Response Fund to help flood survivors. Contributions are funneled to frontline nonprofits that work on relief.
Meanwhile, the Community Resource Center says it is preparing to deliver relief and has refreshed its wishlist. The American Red Cross is also assisting with shelters and provides a disaster helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
Rain and rescues
Flash flood warnings cascaded across the region early Saturday and again in the evening when at least another inch of rain fell in some areas. There was also a tornado warning just before 6 p.m. in the Charlotte area of Dickson County, which was already hit hard by the rains, and some water rescues were reported in the evening in southern Montgomery County.
A flash flood emergency — a higher level of alert — was declared for much of the day for Dickson, Hickman, Houston and Humphreys counties.
The Dickson Fire Department reported multiple water rescues before 7 a.m., properties were experiencing extreme flooding, and authorities and residents were encountering numerous roads that have been washed out.
One report from Dickson County described “too many water rescues to count,” though authorities there said there’d been no deaths and only minor injuries, if any.
Chief Deputy Murphy described the flooding as “way worse” than the devastating May 2010 floods.
“The city of Waverly, they had a river running through the middle of their city,” he said. “They were left on an island out there by themselves and all the resources — as far as infrastructure — were basically taken out.”
Humphreys County had its telecommunications systems damaged and a boil water advisory was put in effect for Waverly after disruptions to water treatment facilities. Three schools in Humphreys County were impacted.
The weather service said many homes and businesses were washed off their foundations by the flooding, with dozens of structures flooded and some roads washed away.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol reported flooding closed Interstate 40 in Hickman County in both directions, but it reopened Saturday.
As of Sunday, the state’s SmartWay map notes many other road hazards. Rail traffic, meanwhile, was halted between Dickson and Waverly.
Multiple bridges and roadways — including SR1/US70, SR230, and SR48N — remain closed Sunday.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency declared a Level 3 state of emergency on Saturday, with multiple state agencies aiding in the response. The Tennessee National Guard flew in medics to the Three Rivers Hospital in Waverly and dozens of soldiers and vehicles were sent in support.
Shelters were opened in Waverly, Dickson and Centerville, and TEMA reported 89 people stayed in them Saturday night.
The state also created a “reunification center” at McEwen High School that was to be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The state’s departments for education, health and human services are on site, along with crisis counseling teams.
Please be safe as the flooding continues. These are some pictures from our TN-HART team as they fly rescue missions. pic.twitter.com/bB2dGVxFIN
— Nashville Fire Dept (@NashvilleFD) August 21, 2021
The Tennessee Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, Nashville Fire Department and the Nashville Office of Emergency have been dispatched to the scene with water rescue teams.
In Humphreys County, emergency crews expected to begin searching for survivors at 7 a.m. Sunday.
— Andrew Leeper (@AndrewLeeper) August 21, 2021
The Piney River in Hickman County had reached 31.8 feet by 11:30 a.m., which the weather service indicates is far above its prior record crest — 20.08 feet — from Feb. 7, 2019.
Our swiftwater crews spent the day assisting in Humphreys County. The damage observed is devastating. Please keep Humphreys, Dickson, and Hickman Counties in your thoughts and prayers as they work to rebuild and recover. #middletnwx #tnwx #flooding pic.twitter.com/wiuBrMecxu
— Williamson County Rescue Squad (@WCRescueSquad) August 22, 2021
This is a developing story last updated at 8:30 a.m. Sunday.