WASHINGTON — Federal officials yesterday defended their response to massive flooding in Tennessee that killed 22 people in May, while acknowledging they could have done a better job of warning the public of the potential devastation.
Testifying before a Senate committee, leaders of the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers said the level of flooding was unavoidable given the unprecedented two-day rainfall that doubled the previous record. But they said they didn’t exchange critical information effectively, and that as a result the public and emergency responders were slow to grasp the flood’s severity.
“The devastating levels, and extent of the flood inundation, was not conveyed in a clear and effective manner,’’ said Gary Carter of the National Weather Service.
He said the agencies understand that improvements are necessary and are working toward them. The corps’ area commander, Major General John Peabody, said the event has caused the agency to reconsider its worst-case weather scenarios.
The flooding was one of the state’s worst natural disasters, causing about $2 billion in damage in Nashville alone.
Furious rains, triple what was forecast, swelled the Cumberland River to nearly 52 feet on May 3 — 12 feet above flood level.
Local officials and members of Congress at yesterday’s hearing offered mixed reviews of the federal government’s efforts, but there was broad agreement it could have been handled better.