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345 inmates relocated to 'undisclosed location' from Florida jail to move others to safety

Officials are concerned about a collapse at any moment and "catastrophic flooding" at the Manatee County site.

PALMETTO, Fla. — Florida state and local leaders fear an "imminent" collapse of the retention pond at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Manatee County.

People who live and work in the area are told to get out and stay away. 

In addition to a "significant leak" at the bottom of the 700-to-800-million-gallon holding pool, several small breaches recently were found. It contains a mixture of process water, saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project, rainfall and stormwater runoff. 

Crews are working to relieve stress on the pond by releasing about 22,000 gallons a minute.

RELATED: Breach ongoing at Piney Point reservoir, leaders say, as crews try to prevent collapse

10 Tampa Bay is providing continuous coverage this weekend -- scroll down for the latest updates:

7:00 p.m. April 4: The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says it is moving 345 inmates from the Manatee County Jail to an "undisclosed location" because of the breach at the Piney Point reservoir. The prison is within the mandatory evacuation zone

A spokesperson with the sheriff's office said the remaining 721 inmates at the prison will be moved to the upper level of the facility as a precaution. The sheriff's office says it's not revealing the inmates' location because of "security purposes." 

The agency said in a "worst-case scenario," i.e. a full uncontrolled breach of the reservoir, about a foot of water would impact the jail.  

5:30 p.m. April 4: 311 call center in Manatee County closed after calls "slowed to a crawl," local leaders say. 

The call center will reopen at 8 a.m. Monday.

4:55 p.m. April 4: Florida Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby says she's spoken with the Manatee County Sheriff and says he told her there "is a plan in place to make sure inmates at the jail are protected and evacuated safely."

4:48 p.m. April 4: Manatee County officials say their next planned news conference will be 12:30 p.m. Monday. Congressman Vern Buchanan will join county leaders. 

On Saturday, the congressman said Buchanan the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) answered his call to assist with Piney Point.

2:33 p.m. April 4: People who live in Manatee County can visit this link to see if they are affected by the current evacuation zone near the Piney Point reservoir.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
People living near the area of the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack are asked to evacuate the area.

2 p.m. April 4: Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur says the state is using drones to monitor the Piney Point site and 20 pumps to remove wastewater from the reservoir. 

"I am happy to report no news is good news," Manatee County Chairman Vanessa Baugh said during the news conference, given there has been no collapse of the site.

Manatee County drinking water is "completely safe" to consume, Baugh said. It is part of a closed system that does not allow floodwater to enter. There are no concerns about wells in the county, too, she added. 

There remain fewer than 300 million gallons to drain from the Piney Point reservoir, and it likely won't be until Tuesday officials can feel confident about the situation, Manatee County Acting Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said.

"I think the team is much more comfortable today than we were yesterday...We are not out of the critical area yet," Hopes said. 

1:48 p.m. April 4: St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted he is concerned over possible algae blooms in Tampa Bay with the addition of nutrient-rich wastewater from the Piney Point reservoir.

1:30 p.m. April 4: Manatee Count officials and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection plan to provide an update on the situation at 2 p.m. 10 Tampa Bay will carry it live.

1:13 p.m. April 4: The Florida National Guard is helping to fly in pumps to the Piney Point reservoir.

12:40 p.m. April 4: More pumps are being added to the Piney Point reservoir to remove wastewater amid ongoing fears the entire structure could collapse. The director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management tweeted this video: 

11:37 a.m. April 4: There remains about 340 million gallons of wastewater that still could suddenly be released from the breached Piney Point reservoir. 

If such a collapse were to happen -- and that remains the worst-case scenario, one model suggests there would be a 20-foot "wall of water" flooding the surrounding area, said Dr. Scott Hopes, Manatee County's acting administrator.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis joined Hopes and other local, state and federal leaders on Easter morning to detail the information about the emergency situation, which continues to be critical until crews prove successful in draining the water-covered phosphogypsum stacks at the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant.

RELATED: DeSantis on Piney Point emergency: Goal remains preventing 'catastrophic' flood

The wastewater being discharged from the site to Port Manatee -- and eventually out into Tampa Bay -- is not radioactive, DeSantis said. It's still not the sort of water anyone would want to have in contact with the environment.

The governor explained the water primary is salt water mixed with legacy process water and stormwater runoff. There is a high amount of nutrients in the water, such as phosphorous and nitrogen.

"To date, dissolved oxygen, salinity and pH all meet water quality standards," DeSantis said. "Additional water quality information, including additional parameters, will be available in the coming days."

10:06 a.m. April 4: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to give a news conference at 11 a.m., with county commissioners giving an update at 2 p.m. 10 Tampa Bay will carry their comments live.

7:44 a.m. April 4: 10 Tampa Bay reporter Thuy Lan Nguyen shows U.S. 41 around the Piney Point reservoir remains closed Sunday morning. People have been told to leave the evacuation area and stay out.

6:35 a.m. April 4: An aerial view of the breach shows water continuing to flow from the reservoir. 

Credit: Manatee County government

10:50 p.m. April 3: Gov. Ron DeSantis will hold a news conference Sunday morning in Palmetto. He is expected to speak at 11 a.m.

7:50 p.m. April 3: U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan says the federal EPA has answered his call for assistance.

"The EPA just called me to say they are mobilizing an on-scene coordinator who will leave Atlanta and be here tomorrow to assess the emerging crisis at Piney Point in Manatee County."

5:55 p.m. April 3: Manatee County expands its mandatory evacuation order around the breached Piney Point reservoir. In a release, the county says U.S. 41's closure has been expanded a half-mile west and one mile southwest to Moccasin Wallow Road. It also expands south from Buckey Road to Moccasin Wallow Road.

Moccasin Wallow Road will be closed west of 38th Avenue East.

The county says there are 316 households within the evacuation area. If you live in the area, you should be getting an emergency alert to evacuate. 

At this time, no public shelters are planned to open, the county said. 

"Thankfully the evacuation area does not include any major residential areas, and the homes within Artisan Lakes are not in the evacuation area," said Public Safety Director Jacob Saur in a statement. "If you live within the evacuation area, you need to find shelter with friends and family outside of the evacuation zone now."

Saur said if residents within the evacuation zone need help, they should call Manatee County's 311 Call Center which will connect residents with Red Cross resources.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
People living near the area of the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack are asked to evacuate the area.

5:40 p.m. April 3: In addition to Manatee County, Gov. Ron DeSantis has included Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties in his state of emergency order due to the counties' proximity to the Piney Point facility. You can read the governor's full executive order here.

5:10 p.m. April 3: Florida U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan released the following statement on the Piney Point situation, saying he's calling on the federal EPA to assist:

“The federal EPA just assured me they are going to work to ‘get boots on the ground’ in Manatee County to help confront the contaminated water crisis at Piney Point. I called the EPA to make sure all hands are on deck to deal with this emerging threat at the abandoned fertilizer plant."

"The EPA's regional water division director assured me: 'I understand your concern, I understand the urgency, I am very concerned myself.' We need all the assistance we can get now that state officials have warned a breach of the holding pond containing millions of gallons of contaminated water is imminent."

"This has become a full-blown emergency and we need to take every step possible to protect public health and reduce the impact on homes, businesses and the environment. I appreciate that Gov. DeSantis and Manatee County have declared a state of emergency, but we need the EPA's assistance as well. 

"And when the time comes, I want to make sure the owner of the property, HRK Holdings, is held accountable for failing over the years to properly protect the public. We've known for years that the holding ponds of contaminated water were running out of capacity and threatening the region."

"But for now, we need to focus on the emergency at hand and contain the impact of more than 400 million gallons of contaminant flowing into the region. The EPA's financial and technical assistance could be invaluable in ensuring the containment and disposal of the contaminated water.”

3:45 p.m. April 3: Manatee County leaders do not expect to provide any additional updates unless there are "unforeseen circumstances." The next news conference is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, April 4.

3:32 p.m. April 3: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio released the following statement on the Piney Point situation: 

"The recent reports about HRK’s efforts to stabilize a reservoir at Piney Point in Manatee County are of grave concern, as are the possible environmental impacts to Tampa Bay. My office has been in direct communication with both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Manatee County. I stand ready to facilitate any response needed from the Federal Government."

Sen. Rick Scott earlier tweeted he is monitoring the situation.

2:18 p.m. April 3: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called upon Gov. Ron DeSantis in a letter to convene the Florida Cabinet to detail review the emergency situation at Piney Creek. She is the only Democrat to serve on the Cabinet. 

"The immediate evacuation of residents, disruption of families during Easter weekend, and potential environmental catastrophe requires the attention and action of Florida’s statewide elected leadership," she wrote, in part.

2:15 p.m. April 3: Dr. Scott Hopes, who was just confirmed as Manatee County's acting county administrator on Thursday, said the situation has been escalating during the past several hours.

People who live in the area who have not yet evacuated the area need to do so, Hopes said.

Last night and into the overnight hours, Hopes said crews used earth material and rock to "kind of plug the hole in the dam" on a large section of the leak but were unsuccessful due to the amount of pressure pressed upon it.

Local leaders acknowledged DeSantis' state of emergency, which will help to allocate resources to the area if necessary. Additional pumps are heading to the area, which will help to increase the amount of water being drained from the pond.

There are 22,000 gallons of water being removed a minute, and it's estimated it'll take 10-12 days to successfully drain the reservoir. The risk right now, Hopes said, is an uncontrolled release of water.

1:41 p.m. April 3: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee County "due to a possible breach" at the Piney Point reservoir site.

1:25 p.m. April 3: Sky 10 flew over the leaking Piney Point reservoir site, showing standing water outside of the larger pond and police blocking nearby roads to prevent access to the area.

12:47 p.m. April 3: The county reminds people in the area to call 311 if they are uncertain whether they need to evacuate.

12:32 p.m. April 3: Evacuation notices were sent to anyone a mile north of the phosphogypsum stacks and a half-mile to the south, according to Manatee County public safety.

11:43 a.m. April 3: Manatee County Commission Chairman Vanessa Baugh said in a statement that a complete evacuation of the Piney Point reservoir site and surrounding areas has been ordered "due to further collapse." 

"This occurred despite overnight efforts from state and local crews to reinforce the breached areas."

11:43 a.m. April 3: U.S. 41 is shut down at 113th Street East in Manatee County and College Avenue in Hillsborough County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

People needing to travel south can take the detour onto College Avenue and travel east until reaching Interstate 75. People heading north can take Moccasin Wallow Road to I-75.

Troopers shut down the highway over fears the retention pond could collapse at any moment.

11:16 p.m. April 3: A press conference is scheduled at 2 p.m. at the Manatee Emergency Operations Center to detail the latest on the leak.

7:30 a.m. April 3: Officials in Manatee County announced an expanded evacuation area late Friday, which includes an area roughly east of U.S. Highway 41 and north of 113th Street E.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
People living near the area of the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack are asked to evacuate the area.

RELATED: Manatee County declares state of emergency over breach at former Piney Point phosphate plant

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