AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

EDM Monday Briefing: Middle Tennessee Floods Kill 22 People

Emergency and disaster management briefing for August 23, 2021: Flash flooding in Middle Tennessee killed at least 22 people and caused widespread destruction; a late-season Saharan dust plume may help deter some tropical activity in the Atlantic Ocean; firefighters made some containment gains on California’s Dixie Fire; GM expands its recall to include all Chevrolet Bolt vehicles due to a battery-caused fire risk; Price Lake Dam was damaged by Tropical Storm Fred; Fred caused critical infrastructure damage and flooding that killed four people in Haywood County; wildfires in California are driven by critically dry fuels bolstered by winds and warm temperatures; and Henri was downgraded to a tropical storm hours before its landfall in Rhode Island.

1. At least 22 people are dead after flash floods swept through Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The National Weather Service (NWS) declared a Flash Flood Emergency after up to 17 inches of rain fell across four counties in Tennessee, including Dickson, Houston, Hickman, and Humphreys County – with Humphreys reportedly being the hardest hit. Emergency responders performed swift water rescues and at least another 20 people remained missing as of Sunday afternoon.

2. A late-season dust plume moved off the Saharan Desert and over the Atlantic Ocean beginning on Sunday. The plume is forecast to make its way across the ocean and reach the United States early this week. The dust may briefly deter tropical activity in the Atlantic Ocean, providing some much-needed relief from recent storms.

3. Firefighters were able to make a bit of progress on the Dixie Fire in California, increasing containment to 38%. The wildfire is still very active, with fuel moistures, both live and dead, remaining at historic lows. The wildfire, now burning in five counties, has charred over 724,100 acres, destroyed 1,259 structures and damaged at least 91 others. The Dixie Fire has been assigned over 6,000 personnel, including air and ground support forces.

4. General Motors (GM) issued a recall for all Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles due to a fire risk. GM cautioned that the expanded recall is due to a battery issue that could cause the vehicle to catch fire. Owners were warned to limit charging of their vehicles and to park the vehicle outside. The lithium-ion batteries that are the focus of the recall have two manufacturing defects that can potentially cause fires. The company is also discontinuing all vehicle production and sales until the issue is resolved.

5. Price Lake is closed after its dam sustained damage from Tropical Storm Fred. According to the National Park Service (NPS), the dam used to regulate water levels in Price Lake was damaged, and the lake has emptied. The lake is located in Watauga County, North Carolina, off the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is unknown when repairs will be completed.

6. Haywood County in western North Carolina sustained heavy damage from floodwaters last week after heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Fred. The towns hardest hit were Canton and Cruso, with a total of four people killed in the flooding. Homes, buildings, cars, and other debris were washed away during the flooding, which also destroyed at least 10 bridges and closed several roads. Some of the roads remain closed for debris removal and/or repair.

7. California’s Monument Fire was ignited by lightning on July 30 and is now 20% contained. Current fire spread for this fire and others burning in California is currently being driven by critically dry fuels as opposed to winds, which is more common. The extreme/enhanced drought has cured live fuels to levels fire officials typically see in late September.

8. Henri made landfall in Rhode Island on Sunday as a Tropical Storm, downgraded from a hurricane just hours prior to coming ashore. Henri was forecast to move off to the east, but the storm turned to the west instead, moving across Connecticut and into New York State, where it threatened to stall before making its eastward turn. The storm dropped heavy rainfall, knocked out power, and caused flooding across New England and as far south as New Jersey.

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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