‘I feel like Iike I failed them’: Grieving dad recalls losing baby twins in Tennessee floods

A grieving father has said he feels like he “failed” his family after his twin babies died in the devastating flooding in Tennessee.

At least 22 people were killed and dozens are still missing after record-breaking rainfall and floodwater caused severe damage to homes, buildings, roads and power cables as it rushed through the southeastern part of the US state on Saturday.

The two seven-month-old babies, Ryan and Rileigh Rigney, were swept out of their father’s arms in Waverly on Saturday morning when water surged into their apartment complex as they tried to escape.

Twins Ryan and Rileigh Rigney. Pic: Family handout via NBC
Image:Twins Ryan and Rileigh Rigney. Pic: Family handout via NBC

Their heartbroken parents, Matthew Rigney and Danielle Hall, have described how the water began to rage through their apartment where they sheltered with their four children.

“We woke up and water was filling our apartment,” Mr Rigney told local news station WTVF-TV.

“Our front door… the glass shattered and water just raged in through our house.”

“I had the twins in my arms, I had (19-month-old) Brayla on my hip and I had (five-year-old) Maleah wrapped around my neck,” he told the news station, his voice trembling.

More on Tennessee

  • Tennessee flooding: Twin babies swept from father’s arms among 22 dead as dozens missing

  • Tennessee floods: 21 dead and dozens missing after record rain in southeastern state

  • Tennessee floods: Ten dead and dozens missing after record rain in southeastern state

  • Mexico: At least eight dead as Hurricane Grace hits for a second time

  • Tarzan star Joe Lara dies aged 58 in Tennessee plane crash

  • Knoxville shooting: One dead and police officer shot at Austin-East Magnet High School

“The water, when it hit us it just pulled us under, all of us and we were trapped underneath a bed.”

Breaking down in tears, he continued: “I wish there was something I could have done, I wish I would have just stayed there – I didn’t know if the whole house was about to collapse on us.”

Ms Hall said she attempted climbing out of the window to go to a nearby store for help, but ended up having to grab onto a tree for her life.

Speaking about his daughter Maleah, who sat with her family on the couch during the interview, Mr Rigney said: “I was trying to find all of them, and Leah came up like a big girl. You swam like a big girl, and I’m so proud of you.”

Flood water rips through apartments in Tennessee
Image:Flood water rips through apartments in Tennessee

A neighbour helped Mr Rigney and the two children up to the roof, while Hall was rescued from the tree by boat.

Ms Hall said she saw her husband “get on the roof”.

“But I didn’t see my babies, and I was screaming ‘please tell me that they’re alive'”.

Through tears, Mr Rigney said: “I dreaded telling my wife that I didn’t have all four – like I failed them.”

Sheriff Chris Davis told NBC affiliate WSMV that the siblings’ bodies had been found.

Many of the missing live in the neighbourhoods where the water rose the fastest, the sheriff added, who confirmed the 22 deaths in his county.

Some of the damage to property caused by Saturday's flooding in McEwen, Tennessee. Pic: AP
Image:Some of the damage to property caused by Saturday’s flooding in McEwen, Tennessee. Pic: AP

President Joe Biden offered condolences to the people of Tennessee and directed federal disaster officials to talk to the governor and to offer assistance.

Tennessee governor Bill Lee toured the area, calling it a “devastating picture of loss and heartache”.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *