Live from Music Row Monday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Waverly, Tennessee’s Mayor Buddy Frazier to the newsmakers line to describe the devastating August 21st flood and the ongoing recovery efforts.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line by the Mayor of Waverly, Tennessee, Buddy Frazier. Good morning, Mayor Frazier.
Frazier: Good morning.
Leahy: Well, you know, people are very interested, Mayor Frazier, in how Waverly is doing. Just to give us a background, tell us the consequences of the flooding on the day of the flooding and what has happened since then in terms of the recovery.
Frazier: On August 21st, we lost 20 lives that day and some massive flooding here in our community, along with a large number of residential properties and commercial properties. We have 273 residential homes that were either totally damaged within the city of Waverly or totally destroyed. So the recovery process has begun basically immediately trying to get a lot of housing restored. That effort has been ongoing.
We were hampered last week by the weather that came in. The winter weather slowed things down. And then as the holiday period hit, we had fewer disaster relief teams here during that period of time. But we do have a lot of teams on the ground here at this time. And we look for recovery efforts to really pick up today and get going again today.
Leahy: How long have you served as Mayor of Waverly?
Frazier: I’m in my sixth year as Mayor, my second term. I’m a career city employee. I’ve been employed by the city of Waverly over the last 40 some odd years. For about 45 years I’ve been employed by the city in some capacity.
Leahy: So no one would have a greater understanding of the operation of the city and the history of the city than you when something like this happens and it’s a devastating impact on the community. How long do you think it’s going to take before things are back, I suppose, to something approaching normal?
Frazier: With the loss of basically all of our public housing. And then I met with the housing authority last week. Five years would be very aggressive. I would put total recovery in the five to 10 year period, at least to try to re-establish what we have lost here. And then the financial impact that this flood has had on our small town. And our town also serves as a water utility for this area. And we’ve had a terrific impact there, along with our schools, which have been terribly impacted.
Leahy: Now, when you look at a five to 10-year horizon for recovery, you look at, well, how are we going to recover? You need a lot of cash, a lot of money, a lot of resources, a lot of engineering capability-building capability to do it. Some come from the private sector in terms of the form of donations, other from the state government, others from other county governments, others from the national government. Tell us sort of in order of priority, what each of those has done. First, let’s start with the donations from the private sector.
Frazier: This community has just been bombarded with donations there. Whether that be cash donations or building materials or furniture, household goods, we’ve just been bombarded with those types of donations and all that has gone to the private sector. We’re suffering here like a lot of communities with a lack of housing.
We had a lack of housing prior to the August 21st flooding event, and now that has been compounded by this. There’s a massive amount of household goods and furniture that is in storage here awaiting people’s needs. But they have to have housing first to utilize those things.
We’ve had a lot of families that had to leave our area for one reason, and that’s to find housing. So they’ve had to relocate to other communities to find adequate housing. And then on the city side, we’re working with FEMA to restore the lost city facilities.
We lost our entire public works and water maintenance facility, 20 vehicles, infrastructure that we had, wastewater crossings that were in the creek that were washed out, pump stations that were washed out, and our streets that were damaged. So we’re working with FEMA on that process, and that’s going very well. We’re very pleased with where we are in the FEMA process four and a half months out with the city facilities that we have lost.
Leahy: So when you get up every morning and you have a to-do list, what’s at the top of that to-do list as Mayor of Waverly, Tennessee?
Frazier: It seems like whatever I have planned that day doesn’t happen. It seems like other needs kind of run in front of it. A lot of times I’m meeting with potential developers that are looking at the area and wanting to do something to help, wanting to develop an area, wanting to bring businesses back, and looking at areas that may be suitable for residential.
Our community is very concerned about the creek that runs through our town. We had to monitor the creek very closely yesterday. I don’t know what the rainfall total was for us yesterday, but I would think it would probably be two inches or less. But our creek did get up to a very high-level yesterday.
So we’re going to have to work with state and federal agencies to try to get people where they feel safe in this area and feel like that they can go to bed at night and not have to worry about being flooded out of their home.
And not only do we have a problem in our town with creek flooding, but it’s also pretty well county wide across our counties and a lot of regions of Tennessee where creeks over the years have just become blocked by debris that stream ways have gotten very narrow and there’s not enough room for the flow that we have today. There’s been a lot of development in this area over the years, and I think our streams are just not accurate enough to handle that new flow and runoff as quickly as we get runoff from.
Leahy: How is that problem solved? And what private or public agencies should be involved in solving that problem of creek runoff.
Frazier: We’re working with the United States Army Corps Engineers at this time on a floodplain management study for our area and not only just in town but the creeks within our county too. That’s not a real quick process. That’s probably a two-year process to get the study complete. And then after it’s complete, then we’ll look at the implementation of some of the recommendations from the study.
Leahy: Before the flooding in August, were there any warning signs that these creek overflows might happen?
Frazier: Yes. This is the fifth flooding event that I’ve been involved in during my employment with the city. And that fear has been expressed on the state level and to anyone we could find to listen to us. We felt like it was our number one concern for safety in our area, was flooding from Trace Creek.
Leahy: And so you identified that as a problem. I guess efforts to address it were in the works but didn’t move fast enough. Would that be a fair characterization of what happened?
Frazier: That’s exactly right. We had a request that had been in to do the floodplain management study. The request had not been acted on. We had some mitigation plans that were in place. They had not been funded yet. And then along came August 21st of this massive flooding event before any of these plans could be put into place.
Leahy: Who did you put that floodplain management plan in front of? What agency?
Frazier: To the Army Corps of Engineers.
Leahy: Last question for you, the Mayor Buddy Frazier of Waverly, Tennessee, those in our listing audience who want to help you. What is the best thing they could do? What’s the very best thing they could do?
Frazier: One of the biggest needs that we have right now in trying to establish residential housing, we have a shortage of licensed electricians and skilled plumbers. We definitely need electricians and skilled plumbers in our area taking some of this work and helping us to get some of these houses rehabilitated. That’s our greatest need today, I guess, is those skills. And then after that, monetary donations can still be made to United Way of Humphreys County.
Leahy: United Way is the way to go?
Frazier: Yes. United Way of Humphreys County.
Leahy: Great. Buddy Frazier, Mayor of Waverly, Tennessee, thanks so much for joining us. Come back again periodically and give us an update.
Frazier: Okay. Thanks for keeping attention on this event.