City admits it could have prevented sewage backup that displaced five Lakeland families

LAKELAND, Fla. - The sewage backup that caused hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Lakeland apartment complex was caused by an electrical failure, according to officials.

But the damage could have been prevented.

Lakeland city officials admitted that it appears two water utility employees dropped the ball early Friday morning by failing to dispatch a crew to stop the backup.

"It is believed that the monitoring system sent an alarm to the waste water treatment plant where two people were on duty, and they did not dispatch anybody to fix it," said Robert Conner, interim director of water utilities in Lakeland.

The crew didn't respond until five hours later, when they started getting frantic calls from residents on the first floor of an apartment building at Sunset Lake Condominiums.

Raw sewage starting coming out of their drains and toilets.

"It's a mess," said Teddy Krause, who is helping his parents move their belongings to a new apartment the city is paying for in south Lakeland.

The backup caused extensive damage.

"I'd say at least the bed, furniture -- I mean anything that touched the ground has to be replaced," Krause said.

A total of six apartments were affected by the leak. Five of them were occupied.

It will cost the city an estimated $100,000 to repair the damage to the apartments.

That's not counting the cost of relocating five families for at least the next month and replacing their damaged belongings.

"Nobody likes to have to move their life around, you know?" Krause said.

While five Lakeland families try to move on with only a fraction of their clothes and furniture, the city is looking into exactly how it happened so it doesn't happen again.

"That's under investigation and its working its way through our discipline process right now," Conner said.

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