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Overnight heavy rains from the approach of Tropical Storm Henri leave John Street and Railroad Avenue flooded in Helmetta, New Jersey August 22, 2021. — Thomas P. Costello & Mike Davis/USA Today Network via Reuters
Overnight heavy rains from the approach of Tropical Storm Henri leave John Street and Railroad Avenue flooded in Helmetta, New Jersey August 22, 2021. — Thomas P. Costello & Mike Davis/USA Today Network via Reuters

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WASHINGTON, Aug 23 — Devastating floods in the southern US state of Tennessee have left at least 16 people dead and dozens missing, local officials said Sunday in what they warned was a preliminary toll.

Tennessee was hit Saturday by what meteorologists called historic storms and flooding, dumping 15 inches or more of rain (38 centimeters).

Rural roads, state highways and bridges were washed out and widespread power outages affected thousands of people.

As of 3:00pm local time (2000 GMT) on Sunday the Tennessee Department of Health confirmed 16 weather-related fatalities in Humphreys County.

However, it warned that the figure “is preliminary and pending further updates from local medical officials.”

Nashville newspaper The Tennesseean reported a death toll of 21, citing the Humphreys County division of emergency management.

Search and rescue operations were continuing Sunday, with workers going from home to home to search for victims or those needing assistance, local media reported.

Humphreys County is in the center of the state, about a 90-minute drive west of Nashville, the country music centre.

In an afternoon press conference in Washington President Joe Biden began by expressing his “deepest condolences for the sudden and tragic loss of life” in Tennessee.

“I’ve asked the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) administrator to speak to Governor (Bill) Lee of Tennessee right away” and offer any assistance needed.

Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told a CNN affiliate that the dead included two toddlers. Davis himself lost a friend to the floods.

“They just went and got one of my best friends and recovered him. He drowned in this,” the sheriff said. “It’s tough, but we’re going to move forward.”

Half a dozen children were also missing, Davis said.

Authorities imposed a nighttime curfew as efforts to account for the missing continued.

Photos posted on social media showed a row of homes nearly submerged in brown floodwater, cars flipped over or piled on top of one another, and roads covered in mud and debris. One picture showed a lone person sitting on a rooftop, awaiting rescue.

Local officials in the hard-hit town of Waverly likened the unusually intense storm to a hurricane or a tornado, and said water rose so quickly that some people were unable to escape.  

The Piney River in nearby Hickman County crested nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) above its historic record high, a local National Weather Service office said. — AFP

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