Wall of Water Comes Crashing Down From Reservoir, Sweeping Away Homes, Family

10:40 AM, Dec 15, 2005   |    comments
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  • Click here to hear from witnesses about saving the family, including a paramedic.
  • Click here to hear from the community about the family.
  • Click here to hear from Governor Blunt about the devastation.
  • Click here to hear from company officials, and to see pictures of the empty reservoir from the air.
  • Click here to see a story of a tour of the plant in 1980.
  • Click the video link to the right to see Randy Jackson's 6 p.m. report from the scene, including dramatic video.
  • PHOTO GALLERY:A look at the reservoir and destruction. KSDK- The upper reservoir at the Taum Sauk Dam failed early Wednesday morning, sending a wall of water rushing down the Black River. The reservoir is part of a power plant run by Ameren. A spokesperson says the break is 500 to 600 feet wide. The break sent a wall of water 200 yards wide down the side of the mountain, emptying the reservoir's 1.5-billion gallons in about 12-minutes. That's a rate of 125-million gallons per minute. Had it been summertime, hundreds of campers at Johnson Shut-ins may have been hit by the water. Company officials said Wednesday afternoon that instrument failure apparently caused the breach. The plant was maintaned remotely during the overnight hours from a facility at the Lake of the Ozarks. Authorities in Reynolds County, Missouri say several communities have been evacuated. They say that as far as they know everyone has been accounted for. A family of 5 was rescued shortly after the breach. The family was rescued when their home was swept away in the water. They live in the house because the father, Jerry Toops, is superintendent of Johnson Shut-Ins State Park near the base of the plant. Three of Toops' children, ages 5, 3, and 7 months, were hospitalized in critical condition. The children were found a quarter-mile away from their home, clinging to branches. Click here for the latest video report on their condition. The 5-year-old and 3-year-old were intubated with breathing troubles, meaning medical personnel are helping them breath. The 7-month-old was suffering from hypothermia. The older children were taken by ambulance to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, where they arrived at about 12:45 p.m. The youngest was eventually taken by helicopter, once the weather cleared, to Cardinal Glennon. A fourth person was also reportedly hospitalized. A paramedic at the scene, Chris Hoover, said "We'll never see anything like it in our lifetime again." A truck driver, Greg Coleman, was hauling a load of zinc when he was hit by a wall of water. "I had no idea where it was coming from -- I travel this road every day," he said. Coleman climbed onto the roof and saw that another truck and a car were also submerged, with the drivers also on the roofs. The water receded within minutes. Coleman said he then heard a man screaming for help. Badly bruised, the man was clinging to a cedar tree while his young children held onto other trees. Rescue workers arrived and rescued the family. It is unclear if that was the family of Jerry Toops. Several vehicles, including a tractor trailer, were swept off of Highway N. The river was expected to reach a crest of 20 feet. The record flood crest is 27 feet. The breech was in the northwest end of the reservoir. The plant was built in 1963 and stores approximately 1.5 billion gallons of water. The water is used to create electricity. The reservoir is about 120-miles southwest of St. Louis. A spokesperson says the plant consits of the upper reservoir atop Proffit Mountain, a 7,000-foot-long shaft and tunnel, a powerhouse with two reversible pump turbine units and a lower reservoir formed by a dam across the Black River's east fork. The breach occurred at the upper reservoir. During times of peak demand for electricity, water released from the upper resevoir rushes down the tunnel, spinning tubrines and creating electricity. When demand is lower, the water is pumped back up to the top. Ameren says there doesn't appear to be any evidence of foul play, but they don't yet know what caused the breach. The upper reservoir has had leaks in the past, but a spokesperson says those were fixed two years ago and that it is unlikely they would have contributed to the breach. The spokesperson also says the small amount of rain that fell overnight most likely did not affect the reservoir. J. Mark Robinson, director of the office of energy projects at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said the plant and reservoir, were inspected in August and found to be properly operated and maintained. In a released statement, Governor Blunt said, “My thoughts and prayers are with our fellow Missourians in the Taum Sauk Dam region. I am personally overseeing the state’s response to this unfortunate tragedy and want everyone to know that we are providing assistance to those in need and are working diligently to find out exactly what caused this event and how we can assist in the recovery efforts. I want to commend the First Responders in the area as well as Missouri’s dedicated state employees for their swift response.” Gov. Blunt signed two State of Emergency Disaster Executive Orders that authorize state agencies and the Missouri National Guard to respond to the area. Click here to hear from Governor Blunt about the devastation. Missouri Senator Jim Talent issued the follwing statement: “We have been working with county and state officials throughout the day in response to the reservoir break. I have spoken personally with the governor and we are getting regular updates. In addition, my staff is assisting on the ground. “As always, my primary concern is the safety and health of our people. Officials have notified Missourians in down stream communities who could be threatened by a water surge so they can evacuate and move to higher ground if necessary. And I’ve been assured that every effort is being made to provide medical treatment to those who need it. “We are praying for the Park Superintendent and his family and for the people of Lesterville. “I’m continuing to monitor the situation and working with local, state and federal official to assess the needs of Missourians so we can provide whatever resources are necessary.” For continuing coverage of the reservoir collapse, stay tuned to NewsChannel 5. ______________ NewsChannel 5 reporters Randy Jackson, Sharon Stevens, Leisa Zigman, and Associated Press writers David Lieb, Jim Suhr, Betsy Taylor, Jim Salter and Christoper Leonard contributed to this report.

    KSDK

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