Officials in Florida expanded a mandatory evacuation area near a large reservoir of wastewater because of a significant leak that authorities fear could lead to floods and a collapse of a system with radioactive material.
The original evacuation zone Saturday around the breached Piney Point reservoir has expanded a half-mile west and one mile southwest to Moccasin Wallow Road.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Manatee County, as well as in neighboring Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, in response to the Piney Point incident.
"What we're looking at now is trying to prevent, and respond to if needed, a real catastrophic flood situation," DeSantis said at a Sunday morning news conference in Manatee County.
The area under evacuation is north of Bradenton. News outlets say the Red Cross has been called in to help residents.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says a break was detected Friday in one of the walls of a 77-acre pond, holding millions of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.
The Tampa Bay Times says the reservoir in question held about 480 million gallons of wastewater before the company that operates it began discharging some of it to Port Manatee this week. At least 25 million gallons of the water had been discharged by early Thursday.
DeSantis said Sunday the discharges were necessary, according to officials, to avoid a "catastrophic" incident. DeSantis added the water is not radioactive.
During Sunday's news conference, acting Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said initial models predicted a 20-foot wall of water from flooding, but added current models show one to five feet of flooding is more likely.
“If you’re in an evacuation area and you have not heeded that, you need to think twice," Hopes said.
The pond where the leak was discovered is part of a system with stacks of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive.
"The water quality issues that are flowing from this, for us, is less than the risk of everyone's health and safety," DeSantis said Sunday.
Officials worry that the collapse of the system could spew polluted water as well as radioactive material into the area.
"We have already deployed 20 pumps, 10 vacuum trucks and more than 100,000 bottles of water, with more on the way. I urge residents in the area to follow all warnings and evacuation orders from local officials as we do everything we can to keep you safe,” said Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.
"The goal is to ensure the integrity of the stacks system as quickly as possible in order to minimize impacts on local residents and prevent an uncontrolled discharge," said DeSantis.