April 5, 2011 / 10:24 PM / 8 years ago

Two missing after Tennessee sewage plant wall collapses

NASHVILLE, Tenn (Reuters) - Rescuers combed a Tennessee wastewater treatment plant and nearby river on Tuesday for two workers missing after a basin wall collapsed, spilling up to 1.5 million gallons of sewage water.

A broad search and rescue effort continued along the Little Pigeon River for the missing workers after the collapse of the basin that held sewage and rainwater, said Dean Flener, spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

The Veolia Water North America facility where the incident happened is in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on the eastern side of the state near Knoxville. The city is at the gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

“A wall at this sewage plant came down,” Flener said. “We don’t know why it came down. We don’t know what caused it to come down.”

A statement from the city of Gatlinburg said a mudslide had occurred early Tuesday about a mile from the plant, but the cause of the collapse at the facility was unclear.

Rescuers were prepared to continue an extensive search and rescue operation for the missing workers into the night. The city said it was in constant contact with the families of the missing workers and would not release their names.

State and local emergency services coordinators were at the site along with the health and conservation departments due to the potential contents of the spill, Flener said. It was not clear how much sewage escaped, but the basin holds up to 1.5 million gallons, he said.

People were advised to stay out of the Little Pigeon down river from the spill, and wash thoroughly if they come in contact with the water.

Reporting by Tim Ghianni and David Bailey

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