Flooded Tennessee town wrestles with how, where to rebuild

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Jim Traylor’s family in rural Waverly, Tennessee, had never been flooded once in the 100 years their home lived. The normally shallow Trace Creek where he fished and swam as a child never crossed the one-lane road that separated him from his home.

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This changed on August 21, when more than 17 inches (43 cm) of rain upstream turned the usually calm waterway into a raging river that entered his home and devastated the city, before 20 People died.

By the time the 79-year-old decided to run away, the water had halved in his tyres.


“Sitting here in the car and just looking at it, how fast it was coming this way – it would blow your mind,” he said recently. “It’s unreal. You can’t imagine that.”

Traylor’s family got out safely, dogs and everything, but the house his grandfather bought in 1921 must have seen its last days, with no money to repair it except with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and he Doesn’t want loan.

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“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 the house.”

A hundred years ago, massive floods were seen as a shock of nature, a once in a lifetime event. Residents could build back without fear. But today, climate change is making the type of flood-producing precipitation that is making Waverly more common, experts say.

And so now, the nearly 4,000 people who live there face a dilemma. With more than 500 homes and 50 businesses damaged, Waverly is likely to suffer huge losses in property and sales tax revenue, even as it prepares to spend millions on removing debris and repairing infrastructure. If they do not return home and business, the city may slowly die.

But if they build along the back creek, are they risking another disaster?

Jenny Smith Camp, an engineering professor at Vanderbilt University, said there are many options for communities that risk a recurrence of catastrophic floods, which “need to really think about whether it makes sense to rebuild in some areas.” comes or not.”

“I totally feel that we are talking about people’s lives, their homes – and some of them may be multi-generational,” Camp said. “It’s a hard thing to swallow. But there’s a point that we need to start saying, ‘It’s not safe to live here anymore.'”

Camp said similar difficult discussions are taking place elsewhere, including in Nebraska, where an entire city is considering relocating to a higher elevation following the 2019 floods. In the past decade, weather-related storms, fires and flooding have displaced nearly 23 million people globally, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Formed a group with the aim of strengthening

Before August 21, Mayor Buddy Frazier thought Waverly was thriving.

Unlike many smaller towns, its downtown was alive with a mix of local businesses and chain stores. It also boasts a family-owned movie theater across the courtyard, which has just celebrated 85 years of operation. As recently as Thursday, it was showing off the latest Marvel hit, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

Frazier, a lifelong Waverly resident who has served the city in roles ranging from police chief to city manager since 1975, is now among those considering rebuilding. They had a rented house with 7 feet (2 m) of water. The brick frame survived, but the interior had to be destroyed. Like many damaged homes in the city, it was not within the 100-year floodplain and did not have flood insurance.

As a landlord, the only federal aid he’s eligible for is a low-interest Small Business Administration loan, Frazier said. At 68, he’s not sure he wants to take it.

“The jury is still out,” he said.

State and federal officials said they are ready to help when more money is needed, without making specific commitments yet.

Already, Humphries County commissioners have said they will not push for the reconstruction of a low-income public housing complex near the creek after families testified that they did not want to return. Residents suggested a memorial for neighbors who lost their lives.

Tennessee’s top emergency management official has pledged to help rebuild the city in a way that keeps the community alive. He says everything from homes to floodwaters to two schools decides on everything – luckily, on Saturday.

“There was little income in that housing, and it’s a sad fact that those with the least resources often find themselves most vulnerable to these threats,” Patrick Sheehan told the Associated Press in August. “We want to make sure we work with them to reduce this.”

The government can buy damaged houses and demolish them to make open spaces. But buyouts are expensive and – while they will help address the issue of future flooding – Waverly will have significantly fewer homes and a smaller tax base. Upgrading renovated homes and businesses is another costly prospect.

Many in the city are hopeful that the US Army Corps of Engineers will solve their problem. The Corps has surveyed the flooded area and is seeking funding for the analysis, but any follow-up will require some local funding. This can be a huge demand for a small town.

Gretchen Turner is among those looking to the core for a solution before committing to rebuilding their home, originally built in 1912. She and her teenage daughter spent the time rescuing original artwork by their late mother-in-law before taking refuge in another. destination. Right now, the interior has been stripped of floor beams.

Turner has received $9,000 in FEMA aid, although she’s not sure what it’s actually for. He estimates it can take anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 to rebuild the historic, Craftsman-style home his family has been living in for more than a…

Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Tennessee

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