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Taum Sauk Pumped Storage Reservoir Disaster

December 14 2005 at 12:49 PM
roger  (Login dipper)
Dam failure releases wall of water in SE Missouri
Compiled from news sources

LESTERVILLE, Mo. -- Water poured through a breach at a hydroelectric plant's rural reservoir in southeast Missouri this morning, washing away an unknown number of homes and vehicles, authorities said.

The breach occurred about 5:30 a.m. in the upper of two reservoirs at AmerenUE's Taum Sauk Lake Hydroelectric Plant, AmerenUE officials said.

One person had been feared missing but was later accounted for, authorities said.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was investigating the cause of the breach. AmerenUE officials said there was no sign of foul play. The reservoir sits near the New Madrid Fault Line, which often generates small earthquakes, but Gov. Matt Blunt said no seismic activity occurred Wednesday morning.

The Rev. Bill Jackson said Jerry and Lisa Tubes and their three young children were rescued some time after dawn from several locations in Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where Jerry Tubes is superintendent. Jackson said floodwater destroyed the family’s home, which was near the park campground.

All five were taken to Reynolds County Memorial Hospital in Ellington, south of Lesterville. Jackson said two of the children were being taken by ambulance to hospitals in St. Louis. He didn’t know their conditions, but said all five family members had suffered from exposure.

“The water collapsed the house around them, and they just floated out,” said Jackson, who was with the family in the hospital. “Jerry was in a cedar tree when the rescuers found him. He was cold and has a lot of bruises. Lisa had two of the kids with her. I don’t know where the rescuers found the others.

“They are very, very grateful,” Jackson said. “It’s a miracle. Can you imagine your house being swept away at a time like that?

Air temperatures were in the mid 30s when the dam broke. The Tubes’ children range from five years to six months. The two older children, a boy and a girl, were transferred to St. Louis, and the baby -- a boy -- remained with his parents in the Reynolds hospital.

The Shut-Ins is downstream on the Black River from the AmerenUE upper reservoir.

National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pedigo said rain was not a factor in the break. The region received only about one-tenth of an inch of rain overnight, he said.

Conditions along the Black River, where the plant is situated, were considered dangerous, the National Weather Service said.

The plant, built in 1963, is in the Ozarks, about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis.

"The Lesterville area and areas south along the Black River are in extreme peril," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Marty Elmore. "We need to make every effort to have folks get to higher ground."

Pedigo said rescue teams searched for people believed to be trapped in cars, especially along Highway N near the reservoir shortly after the breach. Pedigo said a house, a mobile home, several cars and a tractor-trailer were reported washed away.

The town of Lesterville, with about 150 residents, was under a voluntary evacuation order, said Reynolds County emergency management director Terry Sanders. She didn't know how many people were forced out of their homes. "We're so small we don't have population signs," she said.

Reynolds County has about 6,700 residents.

Officials at AmerenUE, a utility based in St. Louis, said the breach occurred at the northwest corner of the reservoir that holds back 1.5 billion gallons of water from the Black River.

"A number of AmerenUE engineers and specialists are investigating the incident; clearly, public safety is our top concern," said plant superintendent Rick Cooper.

AmerenUE spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said it wasn't immediately clear how much water escaped. She said crews were hustling to the scene to try and fix the breach.

Gallagher said the plant has four chief features: 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.

During times of peak demand for electricity, water -- released from the upper reservoir -- rushes down the shaft and through the tunnel. As it passes through the powerhouse, the water spins the turbines to generate electricity, then is retained in the lower reservoir.

Blunt said the lower reservoir was holding, though it was retaining more water than normal. He said there was concern that if the lower reservoir succumbs, massive amounts of water could surge downstream

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