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Tennessee officials say 18 dead, 3 still missing in fatal flooding

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As residents of western Tennessee’s Humphreys County started to grapple with the damage from deadly and devastating flooding, search and rescue efforts continued on Wednesday. 

The city of Waverly’s Department of Public Safety wrote in a Wednesday morning Facebook post that recovery work would resume as clean-up operations commence. 

“We are continuing our recovery efforts today while beginning cleanup operations. We have plenty of search volunteers. If you can help with cleanup, please come to 515 West Main St (Dollar Tree Parking Lot) and check in. We will assign you to a crew and get you out to help folks,” the department said. “Thank you for the outpouring of support to our community!”

Speaking to Fox News late Tuesday, Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Grey Collier said that the updated fatality count for the disaster is at 18 – down from around 22 earlier in the week. 

Dustin Shadownes, of Ashland City Fire Department, searches a creek for missing persons, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. Heavy rains caused flooding in Middle Tennessee days earlier and have resulting in multiple deaths, missing persons, and property destroyed.
(AP Photo/John Amis)

“It did go down a little bit. We had a discrepancy at the hospital. There was a natural cause of death that got put into the flood victims and we had a Jane and John Doe that – once they were identified – they did not take the Jane and John Doe off and so it left us a little heavy,” she explained. “So, that’s why it went down to 18. Our missing [count] is three.”

In an update on Facebook, the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday afternoon that “recovery and damage assessments remain active” with more than 500 homes identified including 271 destroyed, 160 majorly damaged, 28 minorly damaged and 19 “affected.”

“The discrepancy in the fatality count reported previously was due to a death by natural causes in the emergency room that was mistakenly added to the count; and a John Doe and Jane Doe, that after being positively Identified, remained on the list as unidentified,” the office wrote on Tuesday. 

Annie Rushing steps off her porch after it flooded forcing 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. 
(AP Photo/John Amis)

“We found these discrepancies yesterday and paused reporting the count until we could investigate,” Waverly Chief of Public Safety Grant Gillespie said in a statement. “We’ve now performed a 100% identification of each victim and have an accurate count.”

As federal, state and local crews have tirelessly worked to push through debris in order to locate the individuals still unaccounted for, the heat in the area was rising.

The cause of the flooding was historic rainfall that more than tripled forecasts and toppled the state record of one-day rainfall.

Utility officials said Tuesday that 750 customers were still without power – down from a couple of thousand on Monday – though many members of the 18,000-person county have been suddenly displaced in the ordeal.

John Curtis, co-owner of Waverly Cash Saver grocery store, walks through his damaged store 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. Curtis’ store is the only grocery store in town. 
(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The Waverly Department of Public Safety also took to Facebook to blast looting amidst the recovery efforts as officials work to provide medical care like Tetanus shots, repair the railroad and have ordered residents to boil their water.

In a Tuesday statement, the White House wrote that President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration for the state on Wednesday, freeing up federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts. 

Heartbreaking and heroic stories have emerged in the aftermath of the floods. 

Debris caught on top of a bridge shows how high water reached as cars washed into the creek after recent flooding, Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, in Waverly, Tenn. 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. 
(AP Photo/John Amis)

Rescuers found the body of 2-year-old Kellen Cole Burrow on Tuesday and a pair of 7-month-old twins were killed as they were torn from their father’s arms.

He advised that those who want to help reach out to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and non-profits serving those affected.

“You’ve seen us get a little emotional. You have to remember, these are people we know, people’s families, people we grew up with — just the people of our small town,” Sheriff Chris Davis said Tuesday. “It’s just very close to us.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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