Florida’s Manatee County is in a state of emergency as a toxic wastewater reservoir is on the brink of collapse.
Hundreds of families were ordered to evacuate Saturday after officials warned that Piney Point Reservoir, about 40 miles south of Tampa, could flood homes with 15 to 20 feet of water if it collapses.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Sunday press conference that crews are working to prevent “a real catastrophic flood situation.”
Due to a possible breach of mixed saltwater from the south reservoir at the Piney Point facility, I have declared a State of Emergency for Manatee County to ensure resources are allocated for necessary response & recovery.
— Ron DeSantis (@GovRonDeSantis) April 3, 2021
The reservoir holds a mix of salt water, fresh water and fertilizer runoff. DeSantis clarified on Sunday that the water is not radioactive, after there was concern it might be.
A portion of the reservoir’s retaining wall shifted laterally, which means total structural collapse is possible, Manatee County public safety officials said. If that were to happen, potentially 600 million gallons of water could leave the retention pool in a matter of minutes, they said.
A natural gas plant that provides energy to millions in the region is also in the flood zone, causing additional concern.
Crews are now working to move water out of the reservoir as fast as possible, but it could take more than a week.
The governor said officials are preparing for a full breach, but hope it doesn’t happen.
Ben Kesslen is a reporter for NBC News.