Devastating flooding in the southern US state of Tennessee has left at least 16 people dead and dozens missing, local officials said Sunday in what they warned was a temporary toll.
Tennessee was hit on 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 away and thousands of people were affected by large-scale power outages.
At 3 p.m. 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 “tentative and pending further updates from local medical officials”.
Nashville newspaper The Tennesseean reported a death toll of 21, citing the Humphreys County emergency management department.
Search and rescue operations continued on Sunday, with workers going from home to search for victims or people in need of help, local media reported.
Humphreys County is located in the center of the state, about a 90-minute drive west of Nashville, the country music center.
At 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 have asked the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) administrator to speak to Tennessee Governor (Bill) Lee immediately” and provide assistance if needed.
Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told a NewsMadura affiliate that two toddlers were among the dead. Davis himself lost a friend to the floods.
“They just went to get one of my best friends and they found him. He drowned in this,” the sheriff said. “It’s hard, but we’ll keep going.”
Half a dozen children were also missing, Davis said.
Authorities imposed a curfew as efforts to account for the missing continued.
Photos on social media showed a row of houses nearly submerged in brown floodwater, cars flipping over or piled on top of each other, and roads covered in mud and debris. A photo showed a lone person sitting on a roof waiting to be rescued.
Local officials in the hard-hit town of Waverly likened the unusually intense storm to a hurricane or tornado, saying the water rose so quickly that some people were unable to escape.
The Piney River in nearby Hickman County climbed nearly 12 feet (3.6 meters) above its historic record height, a local National Weather Service office said.