Medellin energy company EPM issued a red alert on Thursday after it found severe damage inside Hidroituango, Colombia’s largest hydroelectric dam, that could cause the dam to fail.
According to Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez and EPM’s acting director John Alberto Maya Salazar, a 60-foot deep water-filled sinkhole was found near the engine room tunnel, which has been provisionally been discharging water since May last year.
According to Gutierrez, Maya and Antioquia governor Luis Perez, engineers are investigating how serious the damage is and that they had issued a red alert.
Perez did not say if people downstream the project had to evacuate. President Ivan Duque has been informed of the situation. It is unclear where EPM director Jorge Londoño is.
The hole was discovered when engineers were making perforation holes in the mountain supporting the dam project as they were preparing to shut the engine room tunnel after the company succeeded in letting the water flow through the spillway.
According to Maya, the company is now forced to change plans and immediately close the engine room tunnel to prevent the possible expansion of the hole in the engine tunnel.
Engineers will also have to investigate whether erosion caused by the provisional discharge caused the hole and whether this means the dam wall or the supporting mountain could collapse.
The company temporarily lost control over the project last year when the original discharge tunnels were closed and the water in the reservoir threatened to flood the entire dam project.
The dam wall and the spillway were not yet finished when the first emergency emerged and tens of thousands of people were forced to evacuate.
The cost of the project forces EPM to sell major assets while Medellin was forced to make provisional changes to its municipal budget after revenue from its biggest revenue generator were cut.
An unknown number of people has been unable to return home ever since the dam presented its initial emergency on May 12 last year.