Flooded Tennessee town wonders how and where to rebuild
WAVERLY, Tennessee – In the 100 years that Jim Traylor’s family had lived in his home in rural Waverly, Tennessee, there had not been a single time flooded. The normally shallow Trace Creek, where he fished and swam as a child, had never crossed the one-lane road that separated him from his home.
That changed on August 21, when more than 43 centimeters of rain just upstream turned the usually calm waterway into a tumultuous river that rushed into her home and devastated the town, killing 20 people before it fell. back off.
The water was already halfway up his tires when the 79-year-old decided to run away.
“To sit here in the car and just watch it, how fast it was coming that way – it would blow your mind,” he said recently. “It’s unreal. You can’t imagine.
Traylor’s family came out safe and sound, the dogs and everything, but the house his grandfather bought in 1921 may have been on its last days, unless the Federal Agency for help. emergency management. He doesn’t have the money to fix it and doesn’t want a loan.
“At (almost) 80 years old, I can’t see it,” Traylor said. “I would love to save the old house. That’s why I put so much money into it. Because it was at home.
A hundred years ago, the massive flood would have been considered a fluke of nature, a once in a lifetime event. The residents could have rebuilt without fear. But today, climate change is making the kind of flood-producing rainfall that flooded Waverly more common, experts say.
And now the roughly 4,000 people who live there face a dilemma. With more than 500 homes and 50 businesses damaged, Waverly is likely to experience massive losses in property tax and sales revenue, even as it prepares to spend millions on debris removal and infrastructure repairs. If those homes and businesses don’t come back, the city could slowly die.
But if they rebuild along the creek, do they risk another disaster?
Janey Smith Camp, professor of engineering at Vanderbilt University, said there are a number of options for communities at risk of a repeat of devastating flooding, including the need to “really think about whether or not it makes sense to rebuild in certain areas ”.
“I fully realize that we are talking about people’s lives, their homes – and some of them can be multigenerational,” Camp said. “It’s a hard thing to swallow. But there is one point where we have to start saying, “It’s not safe to live here anymore. “
Camp said similar difficult discussions were unfolding elsewhere, including Nebraska, where an entire city plans to move to higher elevations after the 2019 floods. Over the past decade, storms, fires and flooding Weather-related have displaced an estimated 23 million people a year around the world, according to the World Meteorological Organization. After Waverly was ravaged, more than a dozen Tennessee mayors formed a group to support communities against flooding.
Prior to August 21, Mayor Buddy Frazier believed Waverly was on the rise.
Unlike many small towns, its downtown area was alive with a mix of local businesses and chain stores. It even has a family cinema opposite the courthouse which has just celebrated its 85th anniversary. On a recent Thursday, it was showing Marvel’s latest hit, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”.
Frazier, a longtime resident of Waverly who has served the town since 1975 in roles ranging from chief of police to general manager, is now among those considering rebuilding. A rental house he owned took 7 feet (2 meters) of water. The brick frame survived, but the interior had to be gutted. Like many damaged houses in the city, his was not in the century-old floodplain and did not have flood insurance.
As a homeowner, the only federal help he’s eligible for is a low-interest loan from the Small Business Administration, Frazier said. At 68, he’s not sure he wants to take on this.
“The jury is still out,” he said.
State and federal officials have said they are ready to help if more funds are needed, without making specific commitments yet.
Already, Humphreys County commissioners have said they will not push to rebuild a low-income social housing complex near the creek after families testified they did not want to return. Residents suggested a memorial for neighbors who lost their lives.
Tennessee’s top emergency management official is committed to helping the city rebuild in a way that keeps the community intact. He says there are decisions hanging over everything from homes to the two schools that were flooded – luckily, on a Saturday.
“Much of this housing over there was low income, and it is a sad fact that those with the fewest resources are often the most vulnerable to these risks,” Patrick Sheehan told The Associated Press. in August. “We want to make sure that we work with them to reduce this. “
The government could buy back damaged homes and raze them to create open space. But buyouts are expensive and – while they would help solve the problem of future flooding – Waverly would have far fewer homes and a smaller tax base. Another costly possibility is the elevation of reconstructed homes and businesses.
Many in town are hoping that the US Army Corps of Engineers will solve their problem. The Corps has inspected the flooded area and is seeking funds for an analysis, but any follow-up would require local money. This could be a big request for a small town.
Gretchen Turner is among those seeking a solution to the Corps before committing to rebuilding her home, originally built in 1912. She and her teenage daughter spent the flood saving her original artwork. late mother-in-law before taking refuge on the second floor. At present, the interior is stripped down to the beams of the floor.
Turner has received $ 9,000 in FEMA aid, although she is not sure exactly what it is for. She estimates that it could take $ 100,000 to $ 200,000 to rebuild the historic artisan-style house in which her family has lived for more than a quarter of a century.
“I love this house and feel like I am the curator of this house,” she said. “I want it to be okay.”
Jack Buchanan is worried about another flood. He owned his two bedroom home and planned to live there for the rest of his life, envisioning a retirement filled with hunting, fishing and watching his grandchildren play baseball. Now the house is devastated. Like many others, he did not have flood insurance. He would like to stay in Waverly, where he grew up, but is considering alternatives.
“I’m almost 70 years old and I plan to start over like I’m 20,” Buchanan said.
He is thinking of parking a motorhome on his property. For now, he alternates between staying with his two children and a close friend. But he also considers himself lucky.
“A lot of people are in worse shape than me,” he said. “A lot of people have lost loved ones. A lot of people have nowhere to go.