Floridians are often used to dealing with evacuations. After all, the state is precariously situated right in the middle of prime hurricane real estate, with massive storms battering the Sunshine State on both coasts yearly.
But this week, as a number of residents are being told to flee their homes once again, Mother Nature has nothing to do with it.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Sunday that crews are working to prevent the collapse of a large wastewater pond in the Tampa Bay area while evacuating the area to avoid a “catastrophic flood.”
Manatee County officials said earlier Sunday that the latest models showed that a breach at the old phosphate plant reservoir had the potential to gush out 340 million gallons of water in a matter of minutes, risking a 20-foot-high wall of water. Throughout the day the volume had decreased to below 300 million.
The water within the reservoir wasn’t your normal runoff, either.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily saltwater mixed with wastewater and stormwater. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.
Crews have been discharging water since the pond began leaking in late March. On Friday, a significant leak that was detected escalated the response and prompted the first evacuations and a declaration of a state of emergency followed on Saturday. A portion of the containment wall in the reservoir shifted, leading officials to think a collapse could occur at any time.
A jail just down the road has not been evacuated, but inmates were moved to the second floor in case the reservoir collapsed.