Leaking water heater

Our gas water heater suddenly began overflowing tonight, perhaps half an hour or so ago. I turned off the gas burner and shut off the water supply. Id' say we have a couple of gallons of water on the floor.
The heater is overflowing from the top. That is, the water is coming out from under the cover which is held on by several screws. There is no water on top of the heater.
The heater was installed in 1997 by the previous owner of our house and we've never had any problem with it before.
I don't know anything about water heaters so I haven't the slightest idea of what happened.
Any comments, suggestions, etc. will be greatly appreciated. I'll call a repair company tomorrow, but in the meantime I'll be checking back here later tonight.
Thanks,
-Len
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LenS wrote:

Water is spraying out from under the sheet metal flue (draft hood) connection? If so, the central core (flue passage) inside the heater has failed. Doesn't happen too often at only 8 years service, but possible. May be related to corrosive water or very high water pressure.
Jim
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My water heater was installed in '98 and also started leaking at the top. I think I died about a year past warrantee. but I had trouble with the gas valve/ thermostat before that. They pretty much self-destruct soon after the warrantee expires depending on how hard your water is. Look for date of manufacture and warrantee information printed on a label on the water heater. The date code may be part of model or serial number or something, (not the date on the ANSI standards declaration). For example 3597xxxx would mean built in the 35 week of 1997.
Kevin
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Hot water tanks just don't last like they used to and the manufactures don't put 15 - 20 year warranties on them anymore, think ten years is about the max now and most or less than that. The house that we sold three years ago had to have an eight year old tank replaced and the house we moved into had to have a nine year old tank replaced. We live in N.E. Okla and the water quality is above average. RM~
PS, Installation is very high these days, probably as much as the tank or more. If you have the time you can save several hundred $$$ by installing your own tank (it's a piece of cake).
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