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'It’s been a headache, but’s it’s also been a blessing': Waverly, Tennessee one year later

One year ago, the Vision covered the tragic flooding in Waverly, Tennessee. This summer, we returned to Waverly to see how the town is recovering.


Daron Brown and Debra Ashton spent much of the past year in prayer.

When flood waters ripped through Waverly, they called upon God for safety.

Brown huddled in the chapel of his church with his sons as the waters rose. 

Down the block, Ashton clung to a pole begging for God to spare her life as the force of the Trace Creek carried her towards the Exxon station.

And on the one year anniversary of the flood – last Sunday – they prayed again. 

The storm that hit Waverly, Tennessee on Aug. 21, 2021 left the town, 66 miles west of Nashville, looking like a war zone. 

The now quiet Trace Creek that rose and flooded Waverly one year ago. Sarah Maninger/Belmont Vision

The creek flooded within minutes and sent waters raging through town, destroying everything in its path. 

Search and rescue sprayed numbers on houses to denote bodies recovered.

The ink revealed a grim truth – the flood killed 20.

The numbers, mostly ones or twos, are still there – faded but visible.

When the National Guard and the Red Cross left town after a few weeks, residents continued to pick up the pieces.

“For a flood that I didn’t cause and I didn’t ask for, it’s been a headache, but it’s also been a blessing,” Ashton said.

She lost both her homes in the flood. Ashton’s rental property and her family home of over 50 years stood side by side on the west side of town. The former was taken by the waters, and the latter was damaged beyond repair.

But she plans to rebuild.

“They had said they’re gonna start my house in March, they just didn’t say what year,” she said.

The site of Debra Ashton's homes that were damaged by flood waters. Sarah Maninger/Belmont Vision

Ashton has been living with friends and family and has found moments of solace, moments of hope, in telling her story.

She’s grounded in the belief that God spared her so she can help others. She wants to be a beacon of God’s love, and of God’s grace, to everyone around her.

“I’m thankful that I went through it,” she said. “I wrote a letter today to somebody in St. Louis that was flooded, and she lost everything, and I’m trying to encourage her.”

“Do you want to look at the positive or the negative side of, you know, moving forward.”

Moving forward is exactly what Waverly residents have been, and continue, to do.

Day by daunting day.

Belmont students were asked to send prayers and aid to the town an hour away from campus.

Waverly had, and will always have, the whole of Tennessee rooting for its recovery.

Construction continues on the Exxon Station in Waverly, Tennesse. Sarah Maninger/Belmont Vision

The Exxon station, one of the first sights drivers see in Waverly, was once a pile of rubble.

It’s upright again, but it’s still a long way from being able to offer gas.

Pastor Brown’s Waverly Church of the Nazarene is open, but the building where Sunday school used to meet hasn’t been cleared by FEMA for demolition.

The community, as Brown put it, is suffering from “flood recovery fatigue”.

And knowing the risks – including the threat of another flood – he is following through with his plan to rebuild on higher ground.

“We’re really hoping and praying that we don’t have another flood event in the meantime, as we still gather in that spot that is a hazard area,” he said.

The building where Sunday school meets at Waverly Church of the Nazarene. Sarah Maninger/Belmont Vision

The new site won’t be finished until at least this time next year, longer if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

But Brown, like Ashton, is focused on something bigger than any one building.

Churches are crossing denominational lines, he said.

Within one mile of Main Street there’s the Presbyterian church, the First Baptist church, the Methodist church and, right across from J’s Pizza, Waverly Church of Christ.

“I can’t say enough about the Church of Christ here in our town,” Brown said. “They have fed people in our community three meals a day ever since the flood, and they haven’t stopped. And nobody would have blamed them if they would have stopped six months ago.”

It will take everyone to return Waverly to what it once was – the pain of that day hasn’t faded.

There’s still anger, there’s still fear and there’s still grief.

But there’s hope for the tenacious Tennessee town, whether that’s in the form of construction trucks, prayer, or for Ashton and Brown, probably a bit of both.

“It’s been an ordeal but like I say, I’m still grateful,” Ashton said. “I’m still a little bit angry, but I’m still thankful and grateful.”

Ashton’s houses – her home of 50 years and her rental property – are empty lots.

Brown’s church is usable, but signs of flood damage are everywhere.

He’s going to rebuild.

They all are. 

This story was written by Sarah Maninger.

PHOTO: One of the X's left by search and rescue remains spray-painted on a house in Waverly, Tennessee. Sarah Maninger/Belmont Vision

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