Manatee County, Florida, ordered hundreds of their residents to evacuate last weekend after officials predicted a toxic wastewater reservoir would collapse at “any time.”
“A portion of the containment wall at the leak site shifted laterally, signifying that structural collapse could occur at any time,” said Jake Saur, Manatee Director of Public Safety.
If it were to collapse, the Piney Point Reservoir, about 40 miles south of Tampa, could flood surrounding homes with 15 to 20 feet of water. However, the threat appeared to recede this week as crews worked around the clock to manage the situation.
A mix of salt water, fresh water, wastewater and fertilizer runoff is found in the reservoir. Citizens were concerned about the stacks of phosphogypsum in the ponds’ location, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) clarified on Sunday that the water is not radioactive.
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On Friday, the Public Safety Department sent out the first round of emergency evacuation notices for people who reside within half a mile of Piney Point. By 11 a.m. the following day, people within one mile north of the reservoir received evacuation orders.
According to Manatee County public safety officials, the reservoir’s collapse would be due to the retaining wall’s lateral shifting, followed by 600 million gallons of water leaving the retention pool.
Manatee County Jail stands within the evacuation zone, but officials have yet to evacuate it. The County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that on Sunday that 345 out of 1,000 inmates will be moving to an “undisclosed secure location” to “free up bed space” for the remaining 721 inmates on the jail’s upper level.
Crews are currently working to move water out of the reservoir quickly to prevent the collapse, about 22,000 gallons of water being discharged every minute.
Scott Hopes, Manatee County Administrator, said there is a possibility of the area being flooded with several feet of water but expects the risk of a collapse to decrease in the next few days.
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