Waverly, Tenn. flood survivors sue CSX rail company for “man made tidal wave”

By: - April 6, 2022 12:55 pm
A partially submerged Ford F-150 sits in Trace Creek on August 23, 2021 in Waverly, Tennessee. Heavy rains caused flash flooding in the area. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

A partially submerged Ford F-150 sits in Trace Creek on August 23, 2021 in Waverly, Tennessee. Heavy rains caused flash flooding in the area. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

Following unprecedented flooding that killed 22 people in Waverly, TN in late August last year, ten families announced a class action lawsuit yesterday against a local rail company they believe is partly responsible. The group says CSX Transportation knew about infrastructure problems with a levee that broke and caused a 7-ft tidal wave but chose not to fix it before the flood.

The 17 individual plaintiffs are represented by Meyers & Flowers, a Chicago-based law firm. One of the firm’s partners, Peter Flowers, issued a statement via a press release yesterday.

“These 22 individuals, seven of which were children, didn’t die because it rained; they died because of CSX’s alleged negligence and calculated decision to prioritize profits over safety,” Flower said in the statement. “While CSX found time to institute a suspension of rail service in order to protect its train cars, the company did not take the time to warn city officials of the looming danger its uncleared debris posed to the residents of Waverly.”

The official complaint plaintiffs filed says the tidal wave was man-made, formed by millions of gallons of water backed up behind the bridge over Trace Creek.The complaint alleges that CSX knew debris had piled up under and around the culvert, blocking the creek’s flow. The complaint also alleges that CSX was threatened with similar litigation in New York state in 2019 because of similar issues with a culvert becoming blocked and acting as a dam that put residents downstream in danger.

Michelle Feliciano, 37, is a plaintiff in the case. Waverly is her hometown, although she’s staying out of state with a relative following the loss of her 7-year old daughter Lucy. Feliciano said a wave of inescapable water hit her home and swept her daughter away.

“It was the worst thing in the world,” Feliciano said in a phone interview. “The wall collapsed on us. I literally lost everything. My home, my car, my whole life. My goal with this lawsuit is to make a change.”

CSX

CSX said in an email statement that while the company can’t comment on pending litigation, they were sympathetic toward families who’d lost loved ones and homes.

“Our most heartfelt thoughts are with the families whose lives were tragically impacted by this historic weather event,” a CSX spokesperson said via email yesterday. “It is important to point out that the significant rain storm in August of 2021 that resulted in the catastrophic flooding of many communities… was an unprecedented and extraordinary event. CSX track and related infrastructure is maintained and regularly inspected in accordance with CSX policies, which meet or exceed federal regulations.”

Just last year, an industry publication reported that the mayor mayor of Whitesboro, NY, wanted CSX to take flood risks and debris build up around culverts more seriously. A spokesperson for Meyers and Flowers said via email today the firm has been investigating this new case for six months. They also said the event was both horrific and preventable.

Feliciano said nothing could bring her daughter back, but she doesn’t want other families to experience the same loss and grief she has.

“I don’t care if I get any money,” Feliciano said. “As long as they’re held accountable and they don’t just keep on ignoring the problem. More people are gonna die. More families are gonna lose their loved ones.” 

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Abby Lee Hood
Abby Lee Hood

Abby Lee Hood is a queer Nashville-based writer covering justice, LGBTQ issues and more. They are an amateur roller-skater and live with their hedgehog, Noodle, and three-legged cat, Tom. They are writing a debut novel and have published poetry and sci-fi/fantasy short stories.

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