As Search for Tennessee Flood Victims Ends, a Community Grieves

WAVERLY, Tenn. — Joseph Prasnikar can’t escape the haunting reminiscence of the final time he noticed his spouse alive: They have been at dwelling, clutched in one another’s arms, as rising water swirled round them. He slipped under the floor. When he climbed again up, she was gone.

The picture seared in his thoughts is vivid and horrifying. He fears it would overpower his reminiscence of the love and easy consolation that outlined the 17 years that they had collectively.

ImageHallie GerberCredit…Family photograph

Now, days after highly effective floods descended on his Middle Tennessee group, Mr. Prasnikar is placing each ounce of effort into preserving his reminiscences of his spouse, Hallie Gerber, and the qualities that make shedding her so agonizing: her persistent kindness, her zeal in caring for him as he navigated a litany of well being issues. He already misses strolling their canines along with her, each of which have been additionally misplaced within the floods.


Michael Leon returned to assist family and friends clear up after the floods.Credit…Brandon Dill for The New York TimesImageA water line in a bed room. Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

“Just that connectedness,” he mentioned, describing their bond, “that presence for each other that most people don’t know exists.”

Ms. Gerber, 60, was one among 20 individuals killed final weekend as flash floods tore by way of communities tucked into the rolling Tennessee woods.

Even although the water has receded, residents stay gripped by excruciating grief, their minds etched with the phobia of watching family members swept away by torrents that appeared to reach out of nowhere.

Officials mentioned on Wednesday that every one of these lacking within the aftermath of the storm have been accounted for. “We are sad that our count is now at 20,” Grant Gillespie, the police chief in Waverly, mentioned. “Our families now have the closure that they need to move on.”

The useless embrace 7-month-old twins, Rileigh and Ryan Rigney, who have been happiest after they have been with one another, and Joe Reeves, a U.S. Army veteran who typically stopped to assist strangers repair a flat tire and, in his final moments, sacrificed his personal well-being to assist his spouse and one among his daughters escape.

“He passed away saving their lives,” an older daughter, Rachel Reeves, 29, mentioned. “My dad was a hero.”

Image In the area’s small communities, practically everybody was linked to somebody who was killed or whose life was in any other case upended.Credit…Brandon Dill for The New York TimesImageA volunteer sorted objects at a donation and reconciliation middle at the highschool fitness center in McEwen, Tenn.Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

The tales of those that died illustrate what had tied residents to the area but in addition what’s going to make it so difficult to rebound. In the world’s small communities, practically everybody was linked to somebody who was killed or whose life was in any other case upended.

The assortment of small cities linked by two-lane highways winding by way of woods and farmland is barely about 90 minutes west of Nashville, however in some methods it feels farther.

In Waverly, a metropolis of four,100 that noticed a few of the worst destruction, modest household properties have been clustered collectively on slim streets, shut sufficient that neighbors may maintain conversations from their entrance porches. But after the storm despatched water surging in from close by creeks, that proximity solely added to residents’ sense of helplessness and grief.

Image The floods despatched water surging in from close by creeks.Credit…Brandon Dill for The New York TimesImageHouses and lives have been upended.Credit…Brandon Dill for The New York Times

Regenia Lynn Brake, who died after being swept away by the water, lived in a public housing advanced of small, spare duplexes within the middle of Waverly. She had 5 kids. She needed to maintain them collectively, and she or he needed them to have a dwelling.

Her kids described the power she put into remodeling the house into one thing that was heat and interesting. A number of weeks in the past, she redecorated her toilet, impressed by movies of properties designed within the farmhouse fashion that she appreciated.

“These are called the projects, but Mama’s house was not,” mentioned Kayla Brake, Ms. Brake’s oldest daughter. “It looked like a home in here. They had concrete walls and everybody used to say, ‘You can’t even hang anything on the walls in there.’” Her mom solved that drawback by shopping for a drill.

ImageRegenia Lynn BrakeCredit…Brandon Dill for The New York Times

At one level, Ms. Brake, 53, labored 4 jobs — a paper route and positions at a day care middle, a grocery retailer and FedEx. But she needed her kids to be insulated from no matter struggles she confronted, and as a substitute was fearful most about their considerations. When Kayla was depressed at 18, she slept in her mom’s mattress for months for consolation.

No matter how outdated I used to be,” her daughter mentioned, “she let me come in here with her, and I would just be so comfortable, so comfortable just being there with her.”

Donna Gail Bradley, 61, had at all times feared the water. Her sister, Deanna Hensley, remembered that after they have been youthful she would by no means swim alone or enterprise in too deep.

Ms. Bradley was trapped within the floodwaters that engulfed her dwelling in Waverly. “Her fear in life was drowning,” Ms. Hensley mentioned. “That’s the hardest thing I’m trying to get past.”

A disabled girl with a number of well being points, Ms. Bradley had been ready for somebody to rescue her. She didn’t have a automobile, had bother respiratory and had one arm in a sling due to an injured shoulder, all of which made it tough for her to flee.

ImageDonna Gail Bradley

Her physique was discovered on Monday about one mile from her dwelling.

Ms. Bradley, who had three kids, was recognized for her cooking, particularly her barbecued venison. “She had a secret recipe,” Ms. Hensley mentioned. “It would melt in your mouth.”

Joe Reeves, 58, and his spouse, Angela Reeves, had moved to Waverly simply two weeks in the past. They advised individuals that they had discovered their dream home, with new flooring and a spacious porch. “He was so proud to have got the house for my mom,” his daughter Rachel mentioned.

Born in Paducah, Ky., Mr. Reeves was raised in Missouri and enlisted within the army after highschool. He was stationed in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell. He and Angela met at church and married about 20 years in the past. He purchased her Vera Bradley purses and jewellery. When she was identified with colon most cancers this 12 months, he often took her to chemotherapy therapies. “They were so in love,” their daughter mentioned. “He was so strong for her.”

ImageJoe Reeves

Mr. Reeves, who had labored at a printing manufacturing unit, had a ardour for cash and fishing largemouth bass. He was a church deacon and sang baritone in a church trio alongside together with his spouse.

“God, family, country — that’s how you would explain my dad,” Ms. Reeves mentioned.

On a current afternoon, Mr. Prasnikar, 53, went to the highschool that has develop into a reduction hub so he may begin the method of rebuilding his life. First, he needed to get a new driver’s license.

As he sat in an empty classroom, Mr. Prasnikar mentioned that he and Ms. Gerber weren’t legally married, however that they had assembled some associates and family for a small dedication ceremony. He appreciated the rhythms that they had developed: He arrange the espresso machine at evening. She made him a cup of espresso within the morning. When his spirits ebbed, she would assist carry them up.

His gratitude for surviving was overshadowed by grief. “I’m bereft,” he mentioned. “I’m broken right now.”

ImageRileigh and Ryan Rigney’s grandmother hugged a member of the family throughout a memorial service for the twins.Credit…Houston Cofield for The New York Times

At a funeral dwelling in Nashville on Wednesday afternoon, a single small coffin was surrounded by flowers. Rileigh and Ryan Rigney at all times needed to be with one another, so it made sense that the twins could be buried collectively.

During a service on Wednesday, the household confirmed pictures of their temporary lives: their days within the new child intensive care unit on the hospital, their arrival at dwelling. In one image, Ryan — or Bubba, as his household known as him — gave Rileigh a kiss, which made her smile. “I won’t forget the way she giggled if you kissed just under her cheeks and by her neck,” Danielle Hall, their mom, mentioned.

“Even though it’s killing me that I lost two babies,” she mentioned, “I know that at least they were together.”

The household of Lilly Bryant, 15, had been stricken by uncertainty for days. She had been lacking since Saturday when the makeshift picket raft she and her sister have been clinging to hit a tree and break up in two, separating them.

ImageLilly Bryant

Lilly was speculated to be beginning her freshman 12 months of highschool. She cherished to bounce and had a nurturing soul, at all times taking part in with youthful cousins and different kids in Waverly, her household mentioned.

Out-of-town family, neighbors and even strangers had helped search for the woman. On Wednesday, her physique was discovered.

“Lilly has been of great concern to everyone,” Chief Gillespie mentioned. “I’m glad that we could find her and give closure today.”

Amanda Morris contributed reporting.