More than 1 million gallons of sewage spills in Gatlinburg

More than 1 million gallons of sewage spills in Gatlinburg; 2 killed

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The 70' x 40' tank that collapsed was holding 1.5 million gallons of untreated wastewater. The 70' x 40' tank that collapsed was holding 1.5 million gallons of untreated wastewater.
Rescue crews primarily looked for the workers inside the plant around the scene of the collapse. Rescue crews primarily looked for the workers inside the plant around the scene of the collapse.

GATLINBURG (WATE) - More than 1 million gallons of sewage spilled Tuesday morning into the Little Pigeon River after a tank collapse at the Gatlinburg Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The bodies of two workers for a private contractor, Veolia Water, were found at 5:30 p.m. under the tank wall that collapsed. They were identified as John D. Eslinger, 53, and Don A. Storey, 44.

Michael Craig worked with both Storey and Eslinger.

"Nobody ever thought something like this would happen. It could have been me. I hate to think it happened to them, because they were good guys," said Craig.

He says Eslinger was a grandfather and Storey was a father. Both talked about their families.

Officials released a statement Tuesday saying, Employees and officials of both the city of Gatlinburg and Veolia Water are expressing deepest sympathies to the families and are extremely saddened to lose coworkers and good friends."

The men were on their assigned shift when the collapse happened at 9:00 a.m.

Gatlinburg City Manager Cindy Ogle said a wastewater equalization basin wall at the plant collapsed. The 70' x 40' tank was holding more than 1 million gallons of untreated wastewater.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is analyzing the damage, but so far officials say the spill is not threatening water quality.

Officials describe the spill as a "catastrophic event." The cause is under investigation.

A crane was used to sift through the untreated sewage as rescue crews looked for the two workers.

The plant is on the west prong of the Little Pigeon River, next to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The spill went into the west prong of the river near the area called the Spur.

The watershed supplying the Little Pigeon River to that point is entirely within the national park.

State officials say people should stay away from the Little Pigeon River during this incident since untreated sewage can cause a health hazard.

However, officials say drinking water is not affected because none of the communities in the area get their water from downstream of the plant.

Local agencies responded to the scene along with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, the state Department of Health, the state Department of Environment and Conservation and the National Park Service.

No surrounding businesses were evacuated.

City services are operating as usual, but the treatment plant is offline so sewage continues to seep into the river.

The city owns the plant and has a contract through 2014 with Veolia Water North America of Chicago to run it.

6 News Reporter Hana Kim and Mona Nair contributed to this report.

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