At least 21 people were dead and 20 others were missing after heavy rain and torrential floods overwhelmed parts of Tennessee, damaging homes, toppling trees and upending cars, officials said Sunday.
Twenty of the deaths were in Waverly, a small city about 75 miles west of Nashville, said Grant Gillespie, chief of the city’s public safety department.
“We’ve experienced a devastating loss,” he said at a news conference.
The number of people unaccounted for dropped from 50 earlier Sunday to 20 later in the day as first responders continued searching. On its Facebook page, the public safety department listed the names of the missing and asked the public for help finding them.
Several of the people on the list are children, the department said.
Among the dead were twin toddlers who were swept away from their father, Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told NBC affiliate WSMV of Nashville. The siblings’ bodies had been recovered, he said.
Also among the dead was a best friend of the sheriff, Davis told the station Sunday. “He drowned in this,” Davis said, adding that he gets “emotional” if he slows down and talks about the disaster. “If I stay working and focused, we work through it.”
The foreman of an event venue and ranch owned by the country music icon Loretta Lynn also died in the floods, the ranch said Sunday. Images published by local news outlets showed the venue, about 11 miles south of Waverly, inundated by flooding, and in a Facebook post, the ranch said the foreman, Wayne Spears, was swept away by floodwaters.
“Wayne has been a family friend to the Lynns and a fixture to the Ranch for decades and we are all devastated by his passing,” the ranch said.
Davis said authorities spent Sunday responding to 911 calls, conducting welfare checks and trying to get a picture of how badly damaged the area was. Parts of the county of just over 19,000 people were still without power and phone service, he said.
Homes were swept off foundations, and cars were left strewn across the area, officials said. Emergency 911 service was temporarily disconnected; it was functional by Sunday afternoon, Gillespie said.
An 8 p.m. curfew imposed Saturday remained in effect, as did a boil-water notice, he said.
The flooding occurred after what most likely was record rainfall, the National Weather Service’s office in Nashville said. More than 17 inches of rain in 24 hours was recorded in Humphreys County on Saturday, probably topping the previous record of 13.6 inches in 1982, the agency said.
In nearby North Carolina, flooding caused by remnants of Tropical Storm Fred last week were also deadly. In hard-hit Haywood County, officials said Sunday that five people died and one person remained unaccounted for.
Tim Stelloh is a reporter for NBC News based in California.