We all went to bed as usual the night of December 21st, just four days before Christmas. But that night would be different. That night would change our lives forever. Around 1 am on December 22, the unthinkable happened. A retention wall for the TVA Kingston Fossil Fuel Plant’s 84-acre fly ash containment pond collapsed, spilling out 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The grey, muddy ash quickly moved into the surrounding lake, cove, and rushed toward nearby homes.
The sludge came rolling in, causing a loud noise that alerted the families closest to the plant that disaster was at their door step. Several families barely escaped with their lives as their homes were filled with sludge or were knocked off their foundations. One little beagle dog was tied up in front of one of the homes and sludge covered him completely. No one could save him in time.
As the front of the pond wall fell, a large tidal wave also headed straight across the lake toward homes on the opposite side. The waves rolled over their docks knocking them down, taking boats and wave runners with them.
The popular fishing cove near the plant filled up with sludge and chunks of coal fly ash which stuck up like icebergs as high as 10 to 20 feet. The aftermath looked like a movie scene on the ugliest planet imaginable. The beautiful cove and shoreline became dark grey muck.
Residents called 911 and emergency workers arrived. They ran to homes making sure no lives were lost and that everyone had gotten out. Shock set in as residents slowly grasped the enormous disaster that laid before them. The spill was a monster that took away homes, landscape, our favorite fishing cove, and filled our beautiful Emory River.
Dead fish floated to the shore down stream of the plant. Meanwhile, nearby residents who slept through the ordeal woke up to the noise of helicopters, private planes, fishing boats filled with people on the lake in freezing temperatures, and a muddy color ash floating all over the lake. It sounded like a war zone. After turning on the local news, we were shocked to discover the nightmare that would change our lives forever.
Now, several weeks after the disaster, most residents are still living among the ash. A few residents closest to the spill have worked with TVA to sell their homes and move away, but many more still remain. Health problems, including respiratory issues, are becoming evident and the residents are becoming increasingly concerned. How will this affect us all long term? How will TVA help our situation and the environment? Is this a safe place to live?
Our group, “Tennessee Coal Ash Survivors Network,” was formed to help our community get through this disaster, giving residents hope, comfort, aid, a voice in the community, air monitoring and sampling data, heavy metal testing for the people, environmental information, etc. We want to thank United Mountain Defense, a non-profit organization which has helped to form this group as well as provide aid to our residents. We would have been lost without UMD. Our goal is be survivors and give hope to people of our community and to other people who may someday experience a disaster like ours.