3:30 p.m. update: River Road water tank collapses overnight

The largest water tank in Muscogee County collapsed early Saturday morning sending about 6 million gallons of water -- equal to 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools -- onto J.R. Allen Parkway, River Road and into a nearby residential area.

The open-top steel tank was located on a hill at the Columbus Water Works treatment facility between River Road and J.R. Allen. It failed shortly before 4 a.m.

The collapse has not disrupted the city’s water supply, Water Works President Bob Tant said Saturday morning as he surveyed the damage. The eastbound lane of J.R. Allen was closed from Second Avenue to Bradley Park until about 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

Columbus Fire and Emergency Medical Services and Columbus Police responded. There was a search and rescue operation on the river shortly before dawn by Columbus Fire and EMS, Columbus Police Lt. Jennifer Dunford said.

A man is known to fish late at night in the area where the water went back into Lake Oliver. About noon, Fire and EMS divers were preparing to go into the lake, when the man’s family brought him to retrieve his truck, said Fire and EMS Deputy Chief for Operations Robert Futrell. The handicapped fisherman had left the river before the tank failure.

One motorist drove into the debris on J.R. Allen and was slightly injured, Dunford said.

There was debris on J.R. Allen and River Road, but most of it was cleared by mid-morning.

Damage to high-voltage power lines is going to take longer to fix.

Power transmission structures that hold the electrical lines were heavily damaged. At least two metal poles were leaning significantly.

Power to the lines, which carry 115,000 volts and a nearby substation, was cut off early Saturday, said Robert Watkins, external affairs manager for Georgia Power Co. in Columbus.

It did not disrupted power to any homes in the area, Watkins said.

The primary issue is going to be replacing the structure, which could take up to four days to repair.

“We are concerned about the stability of the situation,” Watkins said Saturday about noon. “We are putting all the resources we have to get the structure back up.”

Crews could not immediately reach the site with equipment needed to start the repairs. That forced the company to cut a separate road into property.

One of the things working for us is the mild weather, Watkins said.

“If this were the middle of summer, it would be a much different situation.”

When the tank failed, the water rushed off the hill in multiple directions. The bulk of the water went toward J.R. Allen, onto the eastbound lane, then into a storm drain, under the westbound lane and down toward the city marina. Some of the water went onto Moss Drive, where some homes appeared to suffer minor water damage. Water also went down the Water Works drive off River Road. It damaged landscaping and fencing on the Water Works property.

The metal tank, which was a long line of crumpled steel, was at the bottom of the hill just off J.R. Allen. The tank was constructed in 1965 and regularly inspected, Tant said.

“This is a very unusual and strange situation,” Tant said.

Tant and top Water Works officials were preplexed Saturday morning as they surveyed the damage.

“If you had told us to make a list of the top 10, 20 or even 30 disasters that could happen, this would not have made the list,” Tant said. “This is totally unexpected.”

There was one Water Works official at the plant when the tank failed. He was not injured, Tant said. The Water Works had to briefly shut down the plant briefly, Tant said.

“We have always had the ability to take that tank off line,” Tant said. “We can bypass the tank, but it will make things a little more difficult for us.”The tank, the only one of its kind in the 12-tank Water Works system, held untreated river water pumped out of Lake Oliver.

Where the tank once stood, there was just a concrete pad and a metal flooring on an area where the tank stood for nearly 45 years.

The Water Works has begun an investigation of the failure, Tant said.

The structure was insured, Tant said. Insurance agents were being called to inspsect the damage.

“There is no pointing in speculating,” Tant said. “We need to find out what happened. We will get people on the site today.”

Mayor Jim Wetherington, who is on the five-member Water Board, was out of town Saturday, but he had been informed of the failure and was monitoring the situation. City Manager Isaiah Hugley, Assistant to the Mayor Judy Thomas and Fire and EMS Chief Jeff Meyer had all been in contact with the mayor during the day.

Futrell, the Fire and EMS deputy chief, said the timing of the collapse was perfect to avoid major injuries.

“It happened at the best time it could have happened,” Futrell said.