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Anna Maria Island, near the mouth of Tampa Bay. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A worsening series of breaches in a 800-million-gallon holding pool at the Piney Point industrial site prompted Manatee County to evacuate residents within about a mile of the plant tonight.

  • The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol closed off roads in the evacuation zone around U.S. 41 in Palmetto, per the Bradenton Herald, and the Red Cross has been called in to assist.

The latest: Acting Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes addressed reporters at a press conference around 9:20pm.

  • Hopes said the water being discharged into Tampa Bay — at the rate of 22,000 gallons per minute, or 32 million gallons per day — is acidic and smells of ammonia, but said the pool supported wildlife like snook and ducks.
  • "I wouldn't drink it," Hopes said when asked if it was contaminated.
  • The property has long been considered "one of the biggest environmental threats in Florida history."

The backdrop: The old phosphate plant site, in operation from the 1960s until 2001, holds stacks of phosphogypsum, a byproduct of fertilizer production, and large pools of polluted water. As Selene reported Wednesday:

  • A leak was discovered in the 77-acre process water pond last week.
  • The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said draining it was the only way to prevent "a containment failure and catastrophic release."
Area evacuated south of the site, per the Manatee County Public Safety Department.
Area evacuated north and west of the site, per the Manatee County Public Safety Department.

The big picture: Site manager Jeff Barath's voice shook and he appeared to fight back tears as he spoke to the county commissioners about the situation.

  • "There will likely be impacts in Tampa Bay," he told the commission.

What they're saying: USF geoscience professor Matthew Pasek initially told Axios that releasing small amounts of phosphate-contaminated water in the bay might not be so bad, but warned we’re now looking at irreversible damage.

  • "Algae blooms followed by fish kills are the most likely thing," Pasek said. "It’s going to impact the food chain further down the line too. It’s unlikely to cause human damage, but there’s going to be a pretty stinky bay for a while."
  • A state environmental spokeswoman wrote of the water: "It is slightly acidic, but not at a level that is expected to be concern, nor is it expected to be toxic," per the Tampa Bay Times.
  • The DEP said in a statement that it's "dedicated to full enforcement of any damages to our state's resources and holding [property owner HRK Holdings] accountable for this event."

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Experts say the Tampa Bay Rays should be OK in 2021

Wander Franco slides during a spring training game against the Minnesota Twins. Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

Our Tampa Bay Rays are back again.

The question on everyone's minds: How will they fare a year after winning the AL East for the first time in years and ousting the Blue Jays, Yankees and Astros in the playoffs before losing the World Series to the Dodgers in Game 6?

  • If history serves: After finishing 2008 with 97 wins and 65 losses and a World Series appearance (we see you, Philly), the Rays took a step back the following year, finishing third and missing the playoffs.
  • This year's team has a bunch of questions marks, and that should make for a fun season. Almost always does.

Here's what the experts are thinking:

  • The Tampa Bay Times' John Romano: "It may not be the classic model of five starters combining for 750 innings or more — the way the Dodgers, Yankees, Padres and Nationals will likely do it — and the Rays are not making any top-10 lists of MLB rotations, but don’t be shocked to see Tampa Bay in a familiar place come September."
  • FiveThirtyEight predicts they'll finish with a 88-74 record and have a 51% chance of making the playoffs, a 21% chance of winning the division, and a 4% of winning the World Series.
  • 30 of ESPN's 37 baseball experts picked the Yankees to win the AL East, with just 3 going for the Rays. "While the Yankees certainly face formidable competition from the Rays, the upstart Blue Jays and potentially the Red Sox, I think their top-tier talent will win out," wrote Joon Lee.

If you're thinking about going to a game, the Rays fall on the higher end of the pack in terms of COVID-era capacity — and they do play in the MLB's only fully enclosed stadium:

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

47 mins ago - World

In photos: Students evacuated as wildfire burns historic Cape Town buildings

Firefighters try, in vain, to extinguish a fire in the Jagger Library, at the University of Cape Town, after a forest fire came down the foothills of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday. Photo: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

A massive wildfire spread from the foothills of Table Mountain to the University of Cape Town Sunday, burning historic South African buildings and forcing the evacuation of 4,000 students, per Times Live.

The big picture: Visitors to the Table Mountain National Park and other nearby attractions were also evacuated and several roads including a major highway, were closed. South Africa's oldest working windmill and the university's Jagger Library, which houses SA antiquities, are among the buildings damaged.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two others were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman entered bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday.

The latest: Officers arrested a "person of interest" Sunday afternoon in connection with the 12:42 a.m. shooting and there's "no threat to the community at this time," per a later police statement.