In Tenn. Town, A Muddy Christmas For Some It's a muddy Christmas for some residents of Harriman, Tenn. A power plant dike that burst this week, left ash, water and mud covering hundreds of acres of land, and damaging at least three homes. Deanna Copeland talks about the sludge she found in her backyard and the concerns she has about its safety.
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In Tenn. Town, A Muddy Christmas For Some

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In Tenn. Town, A Muddy Christmas For Some

In Tenn. Town, A Muddy Christmas For Some

In Tenn. Town, A Muddy Christmas For Some

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/98711182/98711181" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's a muddy Christmas for some residents of Harriman, Tenn. A power plant dike that burst this week, left ash, water and mud covering hundreds of acres of land, and damaging at least three homes. Deanna Copeland talks about the sludge she found in her backyard and the concerns she has about its safety.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

SIEGEL: In Tennessee this week, an unnatural disaster along the Clinch River, a spill of sludge, coal ash, or is it sometimes called, fly ash. The ash is a waste product of the Kingston Fossil Power Plant which is operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Coal ash is captured before it can escape at a smoke stack into the air, it's channeled into ponds near the river and contained there by earthen dikes. And that was evidently where the problem was. On Monday, a dike gave way, the coal ash that had been turned into sludge in the pond flooded the neighboring areas. Firefighter, Chris Copeland saw the sludge invade his yard and called 911.

(Soundbite of 911 call)

Unidentified Man: Roane County, 911.

Mr. CHRIS COPELAND (Homeowner, Tennessee): Yes, I'm over at Swan(ph) Pond, and there's a heck of a mud slide or something that came to our backyard. I mean there is - I believe it's a whole(ph)... We live on cove back here, and it's just full of mud.

SIEGEL: Well Deanna Copeland Chris's wife is on the phone from their home in Harriman, Tennessee. What is the scene like?

Mrs. DEANNA COPELAND (Homeowner, Harriman, Tennessee): Well, in the backyard it's pretty devastating. This beautiful little cove that we had is now full of mud and muck and boats, and docks, that are now in the middle of the sludge, instead of where they should be, and actually columns from our neighbor's house that has pretty much been destroyed is now in our backyard. You're waking up to a different world is what we're doing.

SIEGEL: Now, how many homes, do you think, in your immediate area were damaged in this area?

Mrs. COPELAND: That's three homes were damaged from this.

SIEGEL: Like a wave of sludge that came through in the area.

Mrs. COPELAND: It was a wave of sludge and I didn't see the water. It has been described as almost like a tsunami in our little lake. The water was so big it's has knocked out docks on the other side of the channel.

SIEGEL: What's the word from the TVA about what they'll do about the damage?

Mrs. COPELAND: Short term plan is basically just to make sure everything is OK. There's a train that delivers coal to the steam plant and that train track was part of it - was pretty much taken out. So, they're trying to make sure that that's taken care of first, because that steam plant does give power to millions of people all over east Tennessee, even Georgia, Alabama that area. So, they're trying to make sure to get that taken care of and then look at the long-term plan and long-term plan is clean up and what they're going to do with the rest of the ash, and everything else that they have.

SIEGEL: But this isn't an act of God here, I mean this is...

Mrs. COPELAND: Oh, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: So maybe we assume that the TVA is going to cover the damage at some point, don't we?

Mrs. COPELAND: Well, we certainly hope so. It's - it was a man-made structure, but any man-made structure, I'm sure to say any good civil engineer, is going to tell you, you - there's contingency plan you have...

SIEGEL: You build for rain, you build for rain.

Ms. COPELAND: You go above and beyond any possibility you can even fathom to make sure that this does not happen.

SIEGEL: Now, you're still at home, but can you stay there now, or are you going to go stay somewhere else?

Ms. COPELAND: We have power, everything else is fine, it's just a matter of - well, how safe is this?

SIEGEL: Yeah.

Ms. COPELAND: The health effects are still - that's just a question in your mind.

SIEGEL: Yeah.

Ms. COPELAND: When something like this happens. How safe is this? But you look at this from my point of view and go, how can they clean this up? I just don't fathom how anybody can clean this up. Everything - anything is possible I assume, but we look at it and go that - I don't know how you can go clean this up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: Yeah. Well, I hope things work out well for you, and thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. COPELAND: Well, thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Deanna Copeland speaking to us from her home in Harriman, Tennessee.

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