INVESTIGATES: Inside the tunnel, after the flood

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 10:14 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - In the tunnel beneath Citizens Tower, there is not a drop of rainwater in sight these days, but the same spot was underwater a few months ago .

“How much is this going to cost, how long is this going to take, I would love more than anything to answer those,” City Manager Jarrett Atkinson said on March 15, just three days after the flood. “We’ve got to figure out why and where it got into the building and we’re absolutely working on it.”

In the last three months, the KCBD Investigates team has sought to answer those questions.

We have seen the videos of the rising waters, but for the first time since March 12, the city granted the KCBD Investigates team exclusive access to see the damage left behind.

“So when you saw the door that came off the wall and went to swirling around in the water - was right here,” Atkinson explained during a tour of the lower level of Citizens Tower.

The flood waters not only affected that building, but the Utilities Customer Service Center across the street as well.

The two buildings are connected by an underground tunnel, with the latter receiving the worst of the damage.

“It’s downhill slope, everything - pieces of paper, simple stuff like, that had just flowed with the water,” Atkinson said.

So, how did it happen?

There’s a parking garage under construction next to Citizens Tower. Today, sandbags line the site, but those measures were put into place on Saturday, March 13, the day after the flood.

An anonymous city employee told KCBD that “excessive rain water flooded the dirt excavation around the unfinished elevator site and poured into the shaft” where an access hallway to the underground tunnel sits directly below.

That hallway filled with so much water, it burst through the doors leading to both buildings.

“We had had no issues with that tunnel for, two, two and a half to three years,” Atkinson said.

An anonymous city employee tells KCBD the flood came through an unfinished elevator shaft that...
An anonymous city employee tells KCBD the flood came through an unfinished elevator shaft that sat directly above the tunnel that connects two city buildings downtown.(KCBD)

How much will it cost?

As quickly as the flood waters rose, so did the price tag.

Immediate solutions, including the clean-up, remediation, getting elevators back online, cost about $460,000.

“All of the sheet rock has been removed to a consistent level, that’s the remediation, that’s what’s in that $460,000. The water was not this high,” Atkinson said pointing to about three feet of missing wall. “But the sheet rock absorbs it, it’s like a sponge.”

But the total estimated cost has increased sixfold, to $2.8 million.

Late last month, City Council approved that amount to be taken from the general fund, including $1.75 million for a six-month contract with Lee Lewis Construction and nearly $600,000 to replace damaged furniture.

Some things still remain to be aired out. When asked if the flooding could have been prevented, Atkinson refused to answer our question.

When we asked who was at fault, he said “I’m not going to talk about or speculate who is or who isn’t. I’m going to focus on getting the building fixed, and then I’m going to let the insurance companies do what they do and get us those dollars back.”

The money approved by city leaders comes out of the city’s general fund, so the cost will initially be fronted by taxpayers; however, Atkinson plans to get that money back from the insurance companies.

“It’s my intent that none of it will be covered by the taxpayers. The taxpayers are fronting it, it comes out of the general fund reserve, but we expect to get that back,” he said.

Through an open records request to the city, KCBD has learned that the contractor of the parking garage has both liability and umbrella insurance that is in excess of the damage at hand.

Though Atkinson says, the insurance reimbursement will not happen right away and it is unclear how long it could take.

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