The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Flash Floods in Middle Tennessee

Aug 30, 2021

Overnight going into August 21, a storm stalled over the rural town of McEwen, Tennessee, about 70 miles west of Nashville. In a 24 hour period, 17 inches of rain fell. It was a Tennessee record according to the National Weather Service.

This rain fell at high elevations, meaning water flowed downhill and accumulated. Flash floods—a tidal wave of water—hit towns and villages at lower elevations in Middle Tennessee. Entire neighborhoods were washed away.

In the end, 20 people died. Among the dead were 7-month old twins, ripped from their father’s arms by flood waters, a 15-year-old girl and an Army veteran who died helping his wife and daughter escape.

A warning on television the night before had mentioned possible heavy rainfall. On the day of the floods, the Weather Service sent warnings directly to cellphones at 6:09am: “A FLASH FLOOD WARNING is in effect for this area.” A local emergency management director said people “received the notification on their phone at about the same time the water was at their door.”

Such a horrific disaster would normally mean Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help might be available to residents. But under capitalism, an economic system with huge gaps between rich and poor, FEMA help will not be available to many of the low income victims of this flooding.

That is because FEMA will not help any low income community that “opts out” of the federal flood insurance program. That program comes with building codes that can be very expensive for poor communities to manage.

Humphreys and Houston County, hit by the flooding, opted out. These counties are so poor they do not have a tax base to administer building codes.

As climate change gets worse, more explosive rainstorms are going to happen.

While it is difficult to link any one event to climate change, the warming of the atmosphere is contributing to more frequent extreme weather events around the world.

A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, causing more powerful rain. When meteorologists launched a weather balloon to collect data in Middle Tennessee after the floods, they found moisture in the air was at record levels. Climate change has been predicted to hit poor communities the hardest. Add Middle Tennessee to the list of hardest hit.