Distraught parents recall moment infant twins swept away in floodwaters

Parents of two seven-month-old twins killed in floodwaters in the US have spoken about their deaths after the family was torn apart.

Matthew Rigney and Danielle Hall were sleeping with their four children in their Tennessee apartment they had just moved into two weeks earlier when flash flooding struck on Saturday.

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

The normally shallow and sedate Trace Creek just six metres away had overflowed, turned by record-breaking rainfall into a raging torrent.

“We heard a loud boom and it was the door busting in,” Mr Rigney said.

Twin babies Ryan and Rileighana are pictured.
Twin babies Ryan and Rileighana died in floodwaters in Tennessee. Source: GoFundMe

The couple grabbed the children and ran into a back bedroom, but the water kept rising. Ms Hall climbed out a window to go for help, while Mr Rigney clung to the kids: seven-month-old twins Ryan and Rileighana in his arms, 19-month-old Brayla on his hip and five-year-old Maleah wrapped around his neck.

Once outside, Ms 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.

Matthew Rigney and Danielle Hall are pictured.
Matthew Rigney and Danielle Hall speak of their heartache after losing two of their children. Source: WTVF-TV

“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!’” Ms Hall told the TV station.

But Ryan and Rileighana had been ripped from Mr Rigney’s arms, just seconds after the merciless waters, rising 1.8m 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 neighbour. 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,” Mr 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.”

Members of the US Army survey flood damage on August 23, 2021 in Waverly, Tennessee.
The US Army surveys flood damage. Source: Getty Images

The babies were two of 18 victims claimed by the catastrophic flooding Saturday that destroyed houses, tore up roads and took down phone towers and telephone lines in rural Humphreys County. Three people remain unaccounted for.

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,” Ms Hall said, leaning into Mr Rigney’s shoulder as she broke into a sob.

A view of the damage after heavy rain and devastating floods in Waverly, Tennessee, United States.
Cars piled up in Waverly, Tennessee, after the flooding. Source: Getty Images

As the search for the missing continues, officials have started to comprehend the scope of devastation in the community. The Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency said in a news release that more than 270 homes had been destroyed and 160 have major damage.

“Some are just gone — off the foundation — twisted, turned,” Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis said at the news conference.

“They would probably have to be totally destroyed before they could be built back.

“The sheer devastation that we saw in that helicopter ride yesterday has made me realise that we have got an extremely long road to go in all of this.”

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