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Tennessee Dam Bursts, Hundreds Of Acres Flooded With Toxic Slurry Of Ash

DUNCAN MANSFIELD | December 22, 2008 02:24 PM EST | AP

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An aerial view shows damage from a dyke break at the Tennessee Valley Authorities Kingston Fossil Plant (in distance) Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 in Harriman, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

HARRIMAN, Tenn. — An earthen dam holding back a retention pond broke early Monday at a power plant run by the nation's largest public utility, releasing a frigid mix of water, ash and mud that damaged 12 homes and put hundreds of acres of rural land under water.

The 40-acre pond was used by the Tennessee Valley Authority to hold a slurry of ash generated by the coal-burning Kingston Steam Plant in Harriman, about 50 miles west of Knoxville, said TVA spokesman Gil Francis. The dam gave way just before 1 a.m, burying a road and railroad tracks leading to the plant under several feet of dark gray mud.

Authorities said no one was seriously injured or hospitalized.

Investigators were trying to determine exactly what caused the breach, but the TVA spokesman said heavy rains and freezing temperatures may be to blame. Forecasters said the overnight temperature dropped to 14 degrees in Harriman and Francis said there had been 4.9 inches of rain this month so far compared to 2.8 inches in a typical December.

"I am still in shock," said Crystell Flinn, 49, whose ranch-style house was pushed off its foundations and driven more than 30 feet onto a road. "I don't think it really has hit me yet."

Flinn was traveling back from Knoxville when a friend called her cell phone to say she had heard that the flood hit Flinn's house and that her 53-year-old husband James Schean was trapped inside.

Schean escaped cold and shaken but not injured. Flinn told his story while he slept at a temporary shelter at a community college.

Schean, a boilermaker at the TVA plant, was in bed when he "heard a loud clap like thunder," she said. Pieces of the ceiling began falling, wood was popping, glass breaking and furniture falling. And then the house started to move.

"He didn't know what was going on," his wife said. "He couldn't see anything. He had to tear one door off the hinges to get out of the bedroom, and he couldn't get out the front door so he had to kick out a window."

Flinn cried as she looked at aerial photographs of the home, which she and Schean had spent the past 3 1/2 years remodeling and recently filled with Christmas presents.

"I seriously doubt they will let us (rebuild)," Flinn said. After losing another house on the same property to fire 20 years ago, "I am not sure we want to," she said. "The next time we might not make it out."

Emergency workers rescued people from two partially collapsed homes and used four-wheel drive vehicles to help others who couldn't get out of their driveways, said Roane County Rescue Squad spokesman Brian Grief.

Officials originally said 15 homes were flooded, but Francis later said 12 homes had been damaged to some degree. Flinn's house was the worst hit.

Only Flinn's family came to the emergency shelter, which closed later Monday. TVA offered them and others needing help motel rooms.

Francis said 30 pieces of heavy equipment and nearly 100 people were involved in the cleanup effort. He said water flow through a dam on the Clinch River _ which flows into the Tennessee River _ has been reduced to prevent pollution from runoff from the flood.

Howie Rose, the director of the Roane County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said a train carrying coal to the plant reached the point on the tracks that was covered in mud and couldn't go forward or back up. He said authorities were trying to assist the train.

The broken dike left about 4 to 5 feet of water and mud over 250 to 400 acres, Francis said. The Environmental Protection Agency was notified.

The pond is used for dumping a slurry of waste from burning coal at the steam plant, Francis said. TVA will check for signs of problems at its 10 other coal-fired plants, most of which were built in the 1950s.

"They're going to look at that for sure, but we have not had one of these (breaks) like this anywhere," Francis said.

Knoxville-based TVA supplies electricity to 8.8 million consumers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

 
 
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12:47 AM on 12/28/2008
LOL this dam was built under the Democratics watch in the 40's and 50's. They must have cut the funding to do it right the first time. Also The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federally owned corporation its not public or privite owned..........
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HUFFPOST COMMUNITY MODERATOR
Tom Joad
"While there is a lower class, I am in it "
07:30 PM on 12/26/2008
...and the GWB Legacy Tour continues...
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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
mudshark12
Now who are you jiving with that cosmik debris?
05:57 PM on 12/26/2008
30 pieces of heavy equipment and 100 men swooped in there and presto! The mess (evidence) is gone, like it never happened, I hope the Obama Administration don't let stuff like this slide anymore. The people who live near these coal mining operations deserve compensation for their land that has been made worthless by coal mining.
04:19 PM on 12/26/2008
Just another trick to try to get BAILOUT MONEY...By the way, NICE JOB TVA FOR THE GOOD MAINTANCE AND UP KEEP OF THE DAM. Oh! and how much do you make a year?
11:07 PM on 01/15/2009
By and larg the hate message of the democrats has succeded in dividing America. They are pushing so hard for a class war that only the blind could miss it.
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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
EthylRosenberg
02:52 PM on 12/26/2008
Just wondering why TV news treats us to car chases, people trapped in their cars by failing water mains, media stakeouts of homes of political figures and suspected murderers; brushfires, floods...you get the idea...but not this.
I'm guessing the destruction wrought here looked horribly stunning from an aerial viewpoint.
It's the Holidays- I suggest no one attempt to actually explain this.
12:36 AM on 12/26/2008
Dams, bridges, levees; it's all the same. Who cares about infrastructure when we could spend that money establishing a presence in the middle east! I think we should just try to expand our way out of this mess, just like Rome or Germany . . .
04:35 PM on 12/26/2008
Don't you think that we have spent enough money in the middle east? Your comment is rediculas.
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HUFFPOST COMMUNITY MODERATOR
Tom Joad
"While there is a lower class, I am in it "
07:30 PM on 12/26/2008
gdaerin is being sarcastic.
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06:07 PM on 12/25/2008
or you could just stay dumb and hug the tree as the dam bursts
06:56 PM on 12/26/2008
Those that will make a big deal of this will walk the lava flows of volcanes and have no complaint of the heavy metals...no big thing people! Clean it up and get on with it.
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06:06 PM on 12/25/2008
Folks, if you live anywhere downsteam from a dam- you may want to become one of them "ecozealots" "environuts" "tree huggers" the reichwing demonizes.
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06:03 PM on 12/25/2008
Welcome to the Bush Environmental Destruction Agency Bush to dam inspectors- "Good job! Here's a medal!"
05:57 PM on 12/25/2008
Not that there is anything wrong with that.
03:34 PM on 12/25/2008
Something I haven't seen mentioned on the news is the way coal ash is "toxic" -- it is radioactive in addition to the chemical toxicity reported.
11:09 PM on 01/15/2009
Please list your references or I will believe that statement is a bald faced LIE!
02:56 PM on 12/25/2008
I find it more than ironic that the advertisement at the end of this comment thread is the Coal Newsletters & Data website that talks about 'clean coal'.
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andvoodoo2
My micro-bio is teeming with biodiversity.
11:32 AM on 12/25/2008
I predict the long term environmental and health consequences of this spill will be much worse than anyone knows. My sympathies to all who were affected by this.

BTW, to all of those who were affected by this: If someone called this "a natural disaster", wouldn't it make you cra.zy with anger? Well, now you know how those of us who were affected by the levee failures in New Orleans feel.
12:07 PM on 12/25/2008
Yes, add that to that fact that TVA hasn't sent the first rep around to talk to us, or give us any information on this, and you've got a lot of angry families right now.
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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
andvoodoo2
My micro-bio is teeming with biodiversity.
12:38 PM on 12/25/2008
Let this NOLA attorney give you some free advice:

Start writing down EVERYTHING you are going through RIGHT NOW. Keep a detailed journal of each and every move or thing you have to do as a result of this disaster. Make a note of every inconvenience, every hardship, every loss and every dime you spend and on what it was for.

Take detailed photographs and videotape your home, cars and all of your losses.

Save all of your reciepts for food, housing, hotels, supplies, phone calls, gas, etc.

Sign NOTHING, especially no checks without getting good unbiased legal advice first.

Do NOT sign up with the first attorney that comes along. There are experienced, good attorneys and there are inexperienced hacks who will all be vying for you to sign a contract to let them represent you. Go with a respected firm who has done this type of work in the past.

Record every single conversation you have with TVA representatives. Keep a copy of every document or paper they give you. Sign NOTHING.

And, when seeking to repair your home, use licensed contractors ONLY. Get a contract up front in writing and make copies of their driver's licenses and business licences. Check their references.

Good luck and know that this New Orleanian cares and wishes you well.
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HUFFPOST SUPER USER
andvoodoo2
My micro-bio is teeming with biodiversity.
01:00 PM on 12/25/2008
(This is my second attempt at posting this.)

Let this NOLA attorney give you some free advice:

Start writing down EVERYTHING you are going through RIGHT NOW. Keep a detailed journal of each and every move or thing you have to do as a result of this disaster. Make a note of every inconvenience, every hardship, every loss and every dime you spend and on what it was for.

Take detailed photographs and videotape your home, cars and all of your losses. Save all of your reciepts for food, housing, hotels, supplies, phone calls, gas, etc.

Sign NOTHING, especially no checks without getting good unbiased legal advice first.

Do NOT sign up with the first attorney that comes along. There are experienced, good attorneys and there are inexperienced hacks who will all be vying for you to sign a contract to let them represent you. Go with a respected firm who has done this type of work in the past.

Record every single conversation you have with TVA representatives. Keep a copy of every document or paper they give you. Sign NOTHING.

And, when seeking to repair your home, use licensed contractors ONLY. Get a contract up front in writing and make copies of their driver's licenses and business licences. Check their references.

Good luck and know that this New Orleanian cares and wishes you well.
07:21 AM on 12/25/2008
So much for "Clean Coal"!

This story is very ironic. It seems that if there was one company in the US that knows a thing or two about dams, it would be the TVA. I guess, like most other power companies, they just don't care anymore. After all, what is Bush's EPA going to do about it? A $500 fine?
12:56 AM on 12/25/2008
Like mining disasters, this is clearly an act of God. Nothing that any corporation should be held accountable for!

What???

God built a faulty dam at the top of a valley, burned coal in a power plant creating toxic sludge and poisoning the atmosphere, and then God stored the sludge behind the dam?
HUFFPOST COMMUNITY MODERATOR
JessWonderin
02:17 PM on 12/25/2008
gee, sounds like God was following the strict Bush Administration approach to business and the environment . . . .
04:38 PM on 12/25/2008
Bush-it happens.