Church, homes recovering from water tower collapse

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Pastor expects doors to be back open Sunday

By Lisa King

A landmark church and several homes in Waddy escaped major structural damage Saturday when a water tower collapsed, spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water into buildings, uprooting trees and tossing large objects around like toys.


Tex Seph, pastor of Waddy Baptist Church on KY 395, said crews have been hard at work cleaning up debris from the church, which had eight inches of water in the basement, windows broken out, and a tree uprooted among other damage caused by the collapse of a 30-year-old water tower on the church grounds.

Church services were canceled Sunday, but Seph said Monday that everyone has been pitching in to help, and he expects to be back behind the pulpit this Sunday.

“The Byrd House has been condemned, but the electricity is already back on [at the church] and the cleanup crew will be back tomorrow,” he said. “After the structural engineer signs off on it, we’re having somebody come back to look at the air conditioning.”

Neither the church nor the post office has air-conditioning now. When the water tower, owned by U.S. 60 Water, which is managed by North Shelby Water, burst at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, 100,000 gallons of rushing water left a path of destruction in its wake, tearing air-conditioning units away from buildings, and destroying a small house owned by the church named after former pastor David Byrd.

Seph, who has been pastor for the past seven years, stood looking over the desolate scene Monday before the cleanup crew arrived – the roof of the small house lying on the ground beside the caved-in structure and broken timber and other debris littering the landscape.


‘Like an explosion’

Some church members, as well as other people in the community had also come to survey the damage, each sharing and reliving stories of the horrific moment when the tower burst.

“When it happened, I thought it was a tornado and my daughter thought it was an earthquake,” said Seph, who lives in a parsonage on the other side of the church. “Then we went outside and saw the tower was gone.”

“I just couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Teresa Newton, glancing around at the

debris-strewn landscape.

A resident of Harrisonville six miles away, Newton had been on her way back home from helping with wedding preparations for her daughter. “I said, ‘What happened here?’”

Doretha Turner lives across the street from the church; her house was in the direct path of the water.

Miraculously, though her yard is strewn with debris, some of which missed both of her vehicles by inches, her home is undamaged – the rushing water ran down her sloping driveway and into the back yard, narrowly missing both the house and the garage.

“It sounded like an explosion; like a tornado,” she exclaimed, nervously wringing her hands as she recalled that moment. “I’ve never heard anything like it – I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

She related how the peaceful Saturday had turned into a nightmare in a matter of seconds.

“I was in the kitchen getting a Pepsi, and my husband started yelling, ‘Doretha, come quick, hurry!’ she said. “When I looked outside, I just ran to the phone and called 911, and told them to send everybody they could, and hurry, hurry!”

David Hedges, manager of North Shelby Water, said he found out about the incident two minutes after it happened, and hurried to the scene.

“It fell at five-thirty and at five-thirty two my phone rang,” he said. “It was Paul [Whitman, emergency management director], and he said, David, your tank at Waddy just fell. I thought he was joking – I won’t tell you what I said to him because I thought he was pulling my leg. And he said, ‘No, I’m serious.’”

When Hedges got to the scene, minutes later, he was floored, he said.

“It was horrible,” he said.

He said he felt terrible about the scare it gave people, especially Turner, whose property caught the brunt of the flood after it left the church.

“Bless her heart, she probably thought it was the Second Coming,” he said.


The aftermath

Shelby County Building Inspector Tony Kelley said that he examined all three structures affected by the incident.

Of the three, the post office fared the best, only sustaining some minor damage that did not necessitate closing the office, said Waddy postal employee June McInteer.

She had said she heard what sounded like crackling sounds at around 11:30 a.m. when she left the post office on Saturday, but didn't know what it was.

The Byrd House, which served as the church's youth facility, is a total loss.

The church itself, Kelley said, is in fair shape, aside from some broken windows, damaged wiring, water damage and the absence of one of its three industrial air-conditioners.

"As far as the church itself, I had an area of concern that needed to be answered by a structural engineer and we’re waiting on a report on that," he said.

That concern was about a crack in the basement that he said he did not know if it was caused by the water or was already there.

"It was one area in the basement that I wanted a structural engineer to sign off on, nothing terribly wrong, that’s why I went ahead and let them get the cleaning crew in there before mold sets up," he said.

Hedges said the loss of the tank should not cause a problem with water pressure in Waddy, adding that the tank was due to be taken down next year anyway when the new one at Peytona goes up.

"This is the U.S. 60 water district; they just contract North Shelby to maintain their system and do all their billing," he said. "They just have one pressure zone. Some systems with a lot of drastic elevation changes will have different pressure zones, so what helps is them all being all on one pressure zone."

The only problem that could occur, he said, is if there is a large structure fire in the area of the downed tank, residents could experience a decrease in pressure while firefighters extinguish the blaze. He said he intends to see what can be done to speed up the construction of the new tank, which is expected to be completed in about 9 months.

Hedges said an investigation is continuing into the mysterious collapse of the 100-foot tall AO Smith Harvestore tank that was constructed in 1985.


Why it collapsed?

So far, Hedges said, no one has a clue as to the cause of the collapse, he said.

The tank must be inspected visually one a year, according to Public Service Commission regulations, he said, but added he has it checked three times yearly; the last time was in March. Also, he sends a diver down once every three years into the tank to check it internally; the last such inspection was in 2011 and revealed no problems.

Hedges there is one other similar but newer tank in the county, located on Aiken Road in a residential area. He intends to shut it down tomorrow, he said and check it out.

“Thursday, we have an inspector coming and we’re actually going to take it out of service and drain it and send somebody into it and thoroughly inspect it."

He said he has no reason to think there's something wrong with it, but, “We’re not taking any chances. We want to make absolutely sure that this one is not going to do the same thing.”

Seph said he wanted to thank the community for pulling together and that the Waddy firefighters had even offered to let him use their facilities to hold church services until the church is repaired.

"People have been just great," he said.

His voice darkened as he speculated on what could have happened if the tower had fallen toward the church instead of backward into a vacant field.

"I’m just thankful no one was here," he said.

Hedges echoed that sentiment, saying he didn't even want to think about what could have happened if the tower had fallen on the church just 24 hours later, while services were in session, or on the small house that contains the Sunday school.