WEBER CITY — Residents along the North Fork of the Holston River were being warned Monday to be prepared for a possible water surge filled with debris following the collapse of a temporary work bridge at the U.S. 19/23 bridge in Weber City.
James Parsons, Virginia Department of Transportation area construction engineer, told the Times-News that the temporary work bridge on the west side of the highway bridge collapsed Monday morning.
As a result, a crane that was on the south bank slid into the river.
Throughout the day, debris built up behind the collapse, and the water level behind the obstruction had risen several feet above normal.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell said there was a concern that the debris dam created by the collapse could give way and create a surge down river into the Yuma, Carters Valley, Clicktown and Big Elm Road communities.
Murrell noted that Yuma residents on the Virginia side were being asked to comply with a voluntary evacuation, while officials on the Tennessee side were going door to door in affected neighborhoods in Hawkins and Sullivan counties.
"This thing is going to let go, and when it lets go, it's got a debris field behind it like we've never seen come down the river before," Murrell said.
As of Monday evening, Parsons said there was nothing they could do until the water level goes down and they can assess the damage.
There was a concern about the potential for the debris dam to give way, Parsons said.
"That is a possibility," Parsons said. "The work bridge on the far (north) side is washed down stream. It seems too be holding, but that debris is building all the time."
Parsons added, "I've been here since about noon, and (as of 3 p.m.) the water has raised a little and the debris has (increased), but other than that it's not really changed much."
VDOT contractors are currently in the process of replacing the southbound lanes of the U.S. 19/23 bridge over the North Fork in Weber City. The temporary work bridge that collapsed was located just to the west of the location of where the old southbound lanes were removed.
When the southbound bridge replacement is completed, the northbound side of the bridge will be replaced as well.
Parsons attributed the collapse to recent heavy rain that had caused the level of the North Fork to rise.