As the floodwaters rapidly rose in her Waverly, Tennessee, home, Vanessa Yates climbed on the kitchen counters with her 4-month-old daughter in her arms and called for help.
“I just felt like I was going to drown,” she told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “It just happened so quickly.”
“Everything was floating … everything was under water,” Yates recalled. “My ankles were actually covered with water at that point, and so I just put her at the highest level I could and just prayed to God that we would be OK.”
Yates is one of dozens of residents who were quickly overtaken by heavy rain that led to Saturday’s flash flooding in Middle Tennessee that killed 18 people and destroyed dozens of homes. Officials earlier said 21 people had died but corrected the total at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
Authorities are still searching for three people who are unaccounted for.
Among those killed were 7-month-old twins, Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency spokesperson Grey Collier told CNN. The details surrounding the infants’ deaths were not immediately available.
In pictures: Deadly flooding in Middle Tennessee
The raging waters pulled homes off their foundations, left cars and other debris strewn about, and washed away almost everything in its path.
As Yates struggled to keep her daughter safe, family members posted on Facebook that she and the baby were in trouble. With the water getting deeper, Yates’ brother-in-law, Alan Wallace, headed out to try to rescue her and the baby. He got his kayak as close as he could to the house and got out.
Wallace posted a video as he waded through chest deep water, saying, “If I die and don’t make it, I tried. I love y’all.”
He made it into to the home and rescued Vanessa and the baby with the boat.
Man loses mother when water carries them into wrecked home
Thomas Almond told CNN his 55-year-old mother, Linda Almond Bryant, died in the floodwater after it carried them through town.
In a video streamed on Facebook live, Almond Bryant showed the flooding outside the home she was in. “We’re being flooded right now,” she says as the muddy, rushing water pushes debris by the door. “Really scary.”
A male voice says he thinks something just hit the house.
“This is scary,” she says and about 10 seconds later exclaims, “Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.”
She and her son later found themselves in the water.
Almond said he and his mother were hanging onto a side of his house for 30 minutes Saturday as floodwater rushed around it.
Then, a different, dislodged house that was on fire came toward them. They decided to let go, and the water carried them away, he told CNN on Tuesday.
The rushing water carried them into another dislodged house, which had come to rest against a gas station.
“We hit the corner of the house, and as I hit it, it dragged both of us under,” Almond told CNN. “And I was probably under, I don’t know, 30-45 seconds.
“And I came out over here, and I looked around, I screamed for my mom a couple times. But I didn’t see her. And at that … I knew I had to fight for myself.”
He said the current took him around a bend to another building, where he climbed onto a roof and remained there four hours until he was rescued – but his mother did not make it, he said.
Hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed
Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told reporters Tuesday that while taking part in a helicopter survey, he saw over 100 homes that were destroyed and another 100 that were damaged.
“You’ve seen us get a little emotional through some of this,” the sheriff said through tears. “You have to remember, these are people we know. These are people’s families that we know. These are people that we grew up with. This is just people of our small county. And it’s very close to us.”
The county emergency management agency said 271 homes were destroyed and 160 had major damage. Another 28 homes suffered minor damage while 19 were affected in another way.
In the chaos of the storm, phone service was lost and people couldn’t reach their loved ones, leading to a jump in reports of missing persons, officials said.
“We have three missing that we’re reasonably certain is due to the flood. All the others that we’ve had, we’ve been able through investigation to clear those off the list,” Waverly Chief of Public Safety Grant Gillespie said Tuesday. “A lot of people have gotten reconnected in the last 24 hours.”
Search crews used dogs and other equipment in their efforts to find additional victims Monday, with debris left behind by the raging waters complicating efforts, Gillespie said.
Amid the searches, the county is also trying to recover from power outages and water issues caused by the flood.
Saturday rainfall totals reached 17.26 inches north of Centerville, in Hickman County; 17.02 inches in McEwen, in Humphreys County; and 13.76 inches near Dickson, in Dickson County, the National Weather Service in Nashville said.
The flooding on Saturday was caused by several storms training over the same area. Extreme rainfall rates are becoming more common because of human-caused global warming, scientists say.
A curfew will remain in place for the next several days, Gillespie said.
Law enforcement partners from around the state have been assigned to patrol the city and county overnight, he said.
A major disaster declaration has been approved for Humphreys County, the state emergency management agency said Tuesday.
“These federal resources will help many Tennesseans as they begin recovering from devastating flooding. We are grateful for the support from (FEMA and) our federal delegation,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a tweet.
Washed out roads blocked husband from reaching family
As Yates and her baby were trying to stay above water, her husband, Anthony Yates, was trying to get home.
After his wife told him the house was flooding, he drove home as fast as he safely could, but his route was blocked by emergency responders on a road that was washed out, he told CNN.
So Yates got out of his vehicle and walked down railroad tracks in an attempt to save his family.
“I wasn’t about to wait. I had to make sure that my wife and baby were OK,” he said.
Once he made it to town, he was lucky enough to get a ride to his home from some people he ran into.
When he arrived, the house next door was gone and its remnants were on fire, Yates said. He asked emergency workers whether they were sure his family was safe and they said his house was empty.
Still, he pushed them to double-check and persuaded them to go back to the house.
That’s when, through a broken window, he saw two pointy ears belonging to the family dog, Lily. Yates called out to the dog, who was also soon rescued.
CNN’s Rebekah Riess, Alta Spells, Nadia Romero, Gregory Lemos and Jason Hanna contributed to this story.