Heavy rain prompts TN rescues

Residents and visitors evacuated from rising waters as faith-based organizations respond

BY ZACHARY HOFFMAN | CHATTANOOGA | September 24, 2009



"There were a lot of older folks that can’t do the clean up themselves and we’re trying to organize some teams to clean out the mold."

—Pat Handlson, First Presbyterian Church of Cookeville


More than 100 residents of a retirement center in Hamilton County, Tennessee, had to be rescued from floodwaters that cut them off when heavy rains persisted Monday, causing the declaration of a state of emergency.

Several hundred other people also had to be rescued as hotels and residents were evacuated. One person who entered the gushing waters on their own is still missing and is presumably the only fatality as fast moving waters swept them away.

“The rivers crested, so we’re mostly just watching the water go down,” said Jeremy Heidt, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Warm weather and sunshine have given areas around Chattanooga a break, allowing residents to survey any damage that might have occurred due to the flooding.

“Several homes were impacted, and a lot of those homes have water inside them,” said Heidt. “Local governments are in the process of doing damage assessments as the water goes down.”

A letter will be drafted to the Governor once assessments are over and total damage estimations are collected. The decision will then be made if a presidential emergency declaration will be requested.

The low-pressure system to blame for the flooding was the same weather event that produced heavy rainfall for several days over the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana before moving over Georgia and Tennessee, causing the dangerous flooding that claimed the lives of eight or more people near Atlanta.

“You see patterns move through fairly quickly, and sometimes you have systems that are sort of stagnant,” said Mary Black, meteorologist for the National Weather Service (NWS) in Morristown, TN.

These floods come just two months after more than nine inches of rain fell in a four hour period in Overton County, TN. Water rushed down the sides of mountains and flooded valleys, damaging nearly 200 homes and completely destroying 25.

Many homes are still in need of clean up after the July floods. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) has responded and will coordinate with the closest Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church of Cookeville.

Pat Handlson, the Pastor at First Presbyterian said, “The immediate problems are over, but there were a lot of older folks that can’t do the clean up themselves and we’re trying to organize some teams to clean out the mold and scum and throw away things.”

A week ago, more local flooding near Cookeville damaged the apartments of half a dozen students at Tennessee Technological University, flooding caused by the same heavy rains near Chattanooga.

Handlson said, “We’ve been working with the local church and university to relocate them. Some of them lost their cars and a lot of them lost their furniture.”


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