- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 14, 2005

LESTERVILLE, Mo. (AP) — About 1 billion gallons of water poured through a breach at a hydroelectric plant’s reservoir in rural southeastern Missouri yesterday, washing away homes and vehicles and critically injuring three children, authorities said.

The early morning breach occurred in the upper of two reservoirs at the hydroelectric plant run by St. Louis-based utility AmerenUE, company officials said.

One person had been feared missing, but was found later, authorities said.

Three or four family members of a state park superintendent were hospitalized after water swamped their home, Gov. Matt Blunt said.

Three children with critical injuries were being transported to a hospital in St. Louis, 120 miles to the northeast. A spokesman for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital did not have the names of the children and could not confirm whether they were related to the park superintendent. He said a 7-month-old suffered from hypothermia, and a 3-year-old and 5-year-old had breathing problems.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was investigating the cause of the breach at the Taum Sauk Lake Hydroelectric Plant. AmerenUE officials said there was no sign of foul play. The reservoir sits near a fault line in the Ozark mountains, but Mr. Blunt said there was no seismic activity.

National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pedigo said rain was not a factor in the break. The region received only about one-tenth of an inch of rain overnight, he said.

Conditions along the Black River, where the plant is situated, were considered dangerous, the weather service said.

“The Lesterville area and areas south along the Black River are in extreme peril,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Marty Elmore. “We need to make every effort to have folks get to higher ground.”

Mr. Pedigo said rescue teams searched for people thought to be trapped in cars, especially along a highway near the reservoir shortly after the breach. Mr. Pedigo said a house, a mobile home, several cars and a tractor-trailer were reported washed away.

The town of Lesterville, with about 150 residents, was under a voluntary evacuation order, said Reynolds County emergency management director Terry Sanders. She didn’t know how many people were forced out.

The plant was built in 1963. AmerenUE officials said the breach occurred at the northwestern corner of the reservoir that holds back 1.5 billion gallons of water from the Black River.

About 1 billion gallons of water — nearly 80 percent of what was stored there — leaked from a V-shaped breach in the wall of the reservoir, which is dug out of the top of a mountain, said Gary Rainwater, president and chief executive officer of AmerenUE.

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