As Search for Tennessee Flood Victims Ends, a Community Grieves

3 weeks ago 9
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WAVERLY, Tenn. — Joseph Prasnikar cannot flight the haunting representation of the past clip helium saw his woman alive: They were astatine home, clutched successful each other’s arms, arsenic rising h2o swirled astir them. He slipped beneath the surface. When helium climbed backmost up, she was gone.

The representation seared successful his caput is vivid and horrifying. He fears it volition overpower his representation of the affection and elemental comfortableness that defined the 17 years they had together.


Credit...Family photo

Now, days aft almighty floods descended connected his Middle Tennessee community, Mr. Prasnikar is putting each ounce of effort into preserving his memories of his wife, Hallie Gerber, and the qualities that marque losing her truthful agonizing: her persistent kindness, her zeal successful caring for him arsenic helium navigated a litany of wellness problems. He already misses walking their dogs with her, some of which were besides mislaid successful the floods.


Michael Leon returned to assistance   friends and household  cleanable  up   aft  the floods.
Credit...Brandon Dill for The New York Times


Credit...Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

“Just that connectedness,” helium said, describing their bond, “that beingness for each different that astir radical don’t cognize exists.”

Ms. Gerber, 60, was 1 of 20 radical killed past play arsenic flash floods tore done communities tucked into the rolling Tennessee woods.

Even though the h2o has receded, residents stay gripped by excruciating grief, their minds etched with the panic of watching loved ones swept distant by torrents that seemed to get retired of nowhere.

Officials said connected Wednesday that each of those missing successful the aftermath of the tempest person been accounted for. “We are bittersweet that our number is present astatine 20,” Grant Gillespie, the constabulary main successful Waverly, said. “Our families present person the closure that they request to determination on.”

The dormant see 7-month-old twins, Rileigh and Ryan Rigney, who were happiest erstwhile they were with each other, and Joe Reeves, a U.S. Army seasoned who often stopped to assistance strangers hole a level tyre and, successful his past moments, sacrificed his ain well-being to assistance his woman and 1 of his daughters escape.

“He passed distant redeeming their lives,” an older daughter, Rachel Reeves, 29, said. “My dada was a hero.”


Credit...Brandon Dill for The New York Times


Credit...Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

The stories of those who died exemplify what had tied residents to the portion but besides what volition marque it truthful challenging to rebound. In the area’s tiny communities, astir everyone was connected to idiosyncratic who was killed oregon whose beingness was different upended.

The postulation of tiny towns connected by two-lane highways winding done woods and farmland is lone astir 90 minutes westbound of Nashville, but successful immoderate ways it feels farther.

In Waverly, a metropolis of 4,100 that saw immoderate of the worst destruction, humble household homes were clustered unneurotic connected constrictive streets, adjacent capable that neighbors could clasp conversations from their beforehand porches. But aft the tempest sent h2o surging successful from adjacent creeks, that proximity lone added to residents’ consciousness of helplessness and grief.


Credit...Brandon Dill for The New York Times


Credit...Brandon Dill for The New York Times

Regenia Lynn Brake, who died aft being swept distant by the water, lived successful a nationalist lodging analyzable of small, spare duplexes successful the halfway of Waverly. She had 5 children. She wanted to support them together, and she wanted them to person a home.

Her children described the vigor she enactment into transforming the abstraction into thing that was lukewarm and appealing. A fewer weeks ago, she redecorated her bathroom, inspired by videos of homes designed successful the farmhouse benignant that she liked.

“These are called the projects, but Mama’s location was not,” said Kayla Brake, Ms. Brake’s oldest daughter. “It looked similar a location successful here. They had factual walls and everybody utilized to say, ‘You can’t adjacent bent thing connected the walls successful there.’” Her parent solved that occupation by buying a drill.


Credit...Brandon Dill for The New York Times

At 1 point, Ms. Brake, 53, worked 4 jobs — a insubstantial way and positions astatine a time attraction center, a market store and FedEx. But she wanted her children to beryllium insulated from immoderate struggles she faced, and alternatively was disquieted astir astir their concerns. When Kayla was depressed astatine 18, she slept successful her mother’s furniture for months for comfort.

No substance however aged I was,” her girl said, “she fto maine travel successful present with her, and I would conscionable beryllium truthful comfortable, truthful comfy conscionable being determination with her.”

Donna Gail Bradley, 61, had ever feared the water. Her sister, Deanna Hensley, remembered that erstwhile they were younger she would ne'er aquatics unsocial oregon task successful excessively deep.

Ms. Bradley was trapped successful the floodwaters that engulfed her location successful Waverly. “Her fearfulness successful beingness was drowning,” Ms. Hensley said. “That’s the hardest happening I’m trying to get past.”

A disabled pistillate with aggregate wellness issues, Ms. Bradley had been waiting for idiosyncratic to rescue her. She did not person a car, had occupation breathing and had 1 limb successful a sling due to the fact that of an injured shoulder, each of which made it hard for her to flee.

Her assemblage was recovered connected Monday astir 1 mile from her home.

Ms. Bradley, who had 3 children, was known for her cooking, particularly her barbecued venison. “She had a concealed recipe,” Ms. Hensley said. “It would melt successful your mouth.”

Joe Reeves, 58, and his wife, Angela Reeves, had moved to Waverly conscionable 2 weeks ago. They told radical they had recovered their imagination house, with caller floors and a spacious porch. “He was truthful arrogant to person got the location for my mom,” his girl Rachel said.

Born successful Paducah, Ky., Mr. Reeves was raised successful Missouri and enlisted successful the subject aft precocious school. He was stationed successful Germany erstwhile the Berlin Wall fell. He and Angela met astatine religion and joined astir 2 decades ago. He bought her Vera Bradley handbags and jewelry. When she was diagnosed with colon crab this year, helium regularly took her to chemotherapy treatments. “They were truthful successful love,” their girl said. “He was truthful beardown for her.”

Mr. Reeves, who had worked astatine a printing factory, had a passionateness for coins and sportfishing largemouth bass. He was a religion deacon and sang baritone successful a religion trio on with his wife.

“God, family, state — that’s however you would explicate my dad,” Ms. Reeves said.

On a caller afternoon, Mr. Prasnikar, 53, went to the precocious schoolhouse that has go a alleviation hub truthful helium could commencement the process of rebuilding his life. First, helium had to get a caller driver’s license.

As helium sat successful an bare classroom, Mr. Prasnikar said that helium and Ms. Gerber were not legally married, but they had assembled immoderate friends and relatives for a tiny committedness ceremony. He appreciated the rhythms they had developed: He acceptable up the java instrumentality astatine night. She made him a cupful of java successful the morning. When his spirits ebbed, she would assistance assistance them up.

His gratitude for surviving was overshadowed by grief. “I’m bereft,” helium said. “I’m breached close now.”


Credit...Houston Cofield for The New York Times

At a ceremonial location successful Nashville connected Wednesday afternoon, a azygous tiny coffin was surrounded by flowers. Rileigh and Ryan Rigney ever wanted to beryllium with each other, truthful it made consciousness that the twins would beryllium buried together.

During a work connected Wednesday, the household showed photographs of their little lives: their days successful the newborn intensive attraction portion astatine the hospital, their accomplishment astatine home. In 1 picture, Ryan — oregon Bubba, arsenic his household called him — gave Rileigh a kiss, which made her smile. “I won’t hide the mode she giggled if you kissed conscionable nether her cheeks and by her neck,” Danielle Hall, their mother, said.

“Even though it’s sidesplitting maine that I mislaid 2 babies,” she said, “I cognize that astatine slightest they were together.”

The household of Lilly Bryant, 15, had been tormented by uncertainty for days. She had been missing since Saturday erstwhile the makeshift woody raft she and her sister were clinging to deed a histrion and divided successful two, separating them.

Lilly was expected to beryllium starting her freshman twelvemonth of precocious school. She loved to creation and had a nurturing soul, ever playing with younger cousins and different children successful Waverly, her household said.

Out-of-town relatives, neighbors and adjacent strangers had helped hunt for the girl. On Wednesday, her assemblage was found.

“Lilly has been of large interest to everyone,” Chief Gillespie said. “I’m gladsome that we could find her and springiness closure today.”

Amanda Morris contributed reporting.

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