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Fast-moving waters during Tenn. floods killed 3 couples, preacher's wife, father and daughter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Three couples who had been wedded for decades and were enjoying their retirements died together in the deadly floods that ravaged Tennessee.

The state's 20th death from weekend storms was reported Thursday. Among the victims were a preacher's wife who had been cleaning up damage at her church, a school crossing guard swept from the clutch of neighbors trying to pull him from swirling waters, and a father trying to save a daughter who also perished.

As those who died are being laid to rest this week, many are headed back to work in Nashville, the city hit hardest by the storm. Most of the city has had power restored, and cleaning crews were hauling away water-stained furniture and debris from the streets.

Mayor Karl Dean said Thursday that the Cumberland River has dipped below flood stage a day earlier than expected, going down to 39.5 feet. But recovery could take weeks, especially in the city's iconic country music and tourism industry. Damages are estimated at more than $1 billion. And the worst may not be over for the region: rural western Kentucky was bracing for what could be the worst flooding there in 200 years.

Another 10 people were killed in storms in Kentucky and Mississippi. Authorities are searching for at least four more people missing in Tennessee and Kentucky and feared killed in the storms.

Families of the victims say the fast-moving waters flooded homes and roads so quickly that in many cases, there was no time to prepare or escape. Others simply underestimated the danger.

Joseph Formosa Jr., 88, had worked hard all his life in his family's produce business so he and his wife, Bessie, 78, could live independently and dine out often in retirement. They were driving to dinner Sunday when their car was swept away by flood waters.

Joseph Formosa III said he called his father Sunday morning, warning him to stay in their house in Bellevue, where the rising Harpeth River was overflowing.

"Dad in his later years was tremendously hard of hearing and hard-headed, also," he said. "The neighbors seem to think they were just going out to dinner and were impervious to what was going on outside."

LaVerdia McCullough, emergency preparedness coordinator with the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, said her agency shows elderly people how to make five-day emergency kits containing water and supplies. And experts say they shouldn't be afraid to ask for help.

Andrew J. England, 79, and Martha England, 82, were found Sunday evening inside their home in west Nashville, believed to be victims of a flash flood. The couple had been married 59 years.

Andrew England retired from South Central Bell and loved to fish and be outdoors, according to an obituary from West Harpeth Funeral Home. Martha England never learned to drive but could often be seen taking a walk.

Billy Rutledge, 70, and Mary "Frankie" Rutledge, 65, were on their way to church on Sunday when their car was swept away by flood waters on Harding Road in Nashville. His body was discovered Monday outside a Kroger near their church. His wife's body was found about half a mile away.

Billy Rutledge was a graduate of Vanderbilt University and a Vietnam veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, according to an obituary from Marshall-Donnelly-Combs Funeral Home. His wife, a health care administrator, was an animal lover who never turned away a stray.

In Montgomery County, Mary Beth Lumpkin, 63, was cleaning up flood damage at her husband's church, Amazing Grace Baptist Church on Monday. As she was returning home, she drove into floodwaters, said her son, Dan Lumpkin.

"She made a turn onto the road, but there were no markings or barriers," he said. "It was a quick turn and a downhill slope immediately. I think before she even knew it, she hit the water."

A former elementary school teacher, Lumpkin played the piano at the church every weekend. Her son said that she often cared for people in need, running errands or cleaning houses for elderly people.

"It's been very very tough, but she was a woman of great faith and she instilled that in us," Dan Lumpkin said.

Bobby Qualls, 44, and his daughter Kylie Qualls, 15, were swept away Sunday from outside their Perry County mobile home. Sherry Qualls told WSMV-TV that her husband had just moved his son to higher ground and was trying to rescue their daughter, who was hugging a tree in chest-deep water screaming for help. Both were washed away, along with the mobile home.

Robert Woods, 74, a retired truck driver, was working as a school zone crossing guard in Nashville and earned the nickname "Officer Friendly," said his son, Rodney Woods.

Robert Woods was trying to escape in a car when he was caught in the current.

Woods said the car stalled and neighbors rushed into the water to save him. They got him out of the car, but lost their grip on him in the strong current.

"This is very tragic to us," Woods said Thursday by phone as he was cleaning out his father's damaged home. "These properties and homes can be rebuilt and replaced, but you can't replace people."