WAVERLY, Tenn. (AP) — Matthew Rigney and Danielle Hall were sleeping with their four children in the Tennessee apartment they had just moved into two weeks earlier when the flash flooding struck.
“We woke up and water was filling our apartment,” Rigney told WTVF-TV.
The normally shallow and sedate Trace Creek just 20 feet (6 meters) away had overflowed, turned by record-breaking rainfall into a raging torrent.
“We heard a loud boom and it was the door busting in,” Rigney said.
The couple grabbed the children and ran into a back bedroom, but the water kept rising. Hall climbed out a window to go for help, while Rigney clung to the kids: 7-month-old twins Ryan and Rileighana in his arms, 19-month-old Brayla on his hip and 5-year-old Maleah wrapped around his neck.
Once outside, Hall was immediately knocked off her feet by the rushing floodwaters but was able to grab hold of a tree. It was from there that she watched her husband and oldest two kids clamber up onto the roof. To her horror, she did not see the twins.
“Through the trees, I saw him get on the roof, but I didn’t see my babies and I screamed, ‘Please tell me they are alive!’” Hall told the TV station.
But Ryan and Rileighana had been ripped from Rigney’s arms, just seconds after the merciless waters, rising 6 feet (1.8 meters) high in the apartment, had swept him and all four children under, trapping them beneath a bed.
The father and his two older children were ultimately able to escape with the help of a neighbor. Ryan and Rileighana’s lifeless bodies were later found in the apartment after the floodwaters had receded.
“I wish there was something I could have done,” Rigney said, his voice trembling through tears. “I wish I would have just stayed there. I didn’t know if the whole house was about to collapse on us.”
The babies were two of 18 victims claimed by the catastrophic flooding Saturday that destroyed houses, tore up roads and took down cellphone towers and telephone lines in rural Humphreys County. Surviving members of the community have pulled together in their grief, raising money for those who lost everything and to help pay for funerals.
“We never, ever imagined we would be burying babies who are 7 months old,” Hall said, leaning into Rigney’s shoulder as she broke into a sob.