Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis leaves residents without running water, hospital without air conditioning and schools displaced in line

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves said the capital’s main water treatment facility began to fail on Monday, meaning it couldn’t produce enough water to fight the fires, reliably flush toilets and meet other critical needs.

Cassandra Welchlin, a mother of three, told CNN her children are out of school and have had to buy water for cooking, brushing their teeth and other basic necessities.

Welchlin, executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, said brown water was flowing from her faucets. “We still don’t use this water, we don’t boil it to do anything with it because there is sand in the water,” she said. “It’s a very bad public safety issue.”

Jackson resident Jeraldine Watts said she was able to pick up some of the last cases of bottled water from a grocery store on Monday. She and her family use bottled or boiled tap water for everything, including cooking and washing up.

“I keep saying we’re going to be the next Michigan,” Watts said, “and it looks like that’s exactly what we’re headed for.”

Flint, Michigan was hit by a water crisis in 2015, when contaminated drinking water containing lead and other toxins has been detected in homes and residents reported children suffering from mysterious illnesses.

In Mississippi, Reeves declared a state of emergency, activated the Mississippi National Guard, and said the state was increasing city resources and beginning emergency maintenance. “We will do everything in our power to restore the water pressure and get the water back to the people of Jackson,” he said.

The water crisis is upending nearly every aspect of life in the city, where public schools transitioned to virtual learning on Tuesday.

What's it like trying to survive without water in Jackson, Mississippi

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson said air conditioning at one facility was not working properly and portable toilets were being used at other facilities.

At Jackson State University, water pressure is “low to zero on all campuses” and water is provided to students, officials said. The university’s head football coach, Deion Sanders, said his football program was in “crisis mode”.

As crews work to get the water treatment plant back up and running, National Guard members are handing out bottled water, state officials said, but those efforts seemed unsustainable Tuesday.

During a water distribution event at Hawkins Field airport, residents were turned away when the site ran out of its 700 cases of water in just two hours.

A water tower is seen in Jackson, Mississippi, on Tuesday.

Long-standing problems at Jackson’s troubled water system

This week’s problem stems from one of the city’s two water treatment facilities, the OB Curtis plant, which has been plagued by staff shortages and three decades of deferred maintenance, according to the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Antar Lumumba.

The plant’s main pumps were badly damaged recently and it started operating with smaller backup pumps about a month ago – around the time the last boil water advisory began — and that made failure more and more likely, the governor said.

Pearl River flood after recent heavy rains, treatment processes have been affected and therefore the amount of running water the system can provide, Lumumba said.
The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi has gotten so bad that the city temporarily ran out of bottled water to give to residents

“I’ve said repeatedly that it’s not about ‘if’ our system fails, it’s about ‘when’ our system fails,” the mayor said, adding that the city “has been on its own since the major part of two years” regarding the water crisis.

Reeves said the state would share the cost of emergency repairs with the city, but the mayor said it would cost $2 billion to fully repair and replace the outdated system and that’s money the city doesn’t has not. “We don’t have the funds to deal with 30 years of neglect,” the mayor told CNN.
In early 2020 Jackson’s water system failed a Environmental Protection Agency Inspectionwho discovered that drinking water could potentially harbor harmful bacteria or parasites.
In February 2021, a severe winter storm hitfreezing and bursting pipes and leaving many residents without water for a month.

“Since that time, there hasn’t been a month where we haven’t had zero to low flow in some areas of South Jackson, and so that’s very frustrating,” the councilman told CNN. of Jackson, Aaron Banks.

“The sad part about this is – and the sad reality – is that this is kind of becoming a norm and we deserve a better quality of life right here in the capital city of Jackson, Mississippi,” Banks said.

In July 2021, the EPA and the city reached an agreement to address “long-term challenges and make necessary improvements to the drinking water system.” The EPA also recently announced $74.9 million in federal funding for water and sewer infrastructure for Mississippi.

Signs restrict water purchases at a Kroger in Jackson, Mississippi, on Tuesday.

What the government is doing

Lumumba told CNN’s Pamela Brown that the city was working on more water distribution events.

According to Lt. Col. Stephen McCraney, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, ten tractor-trailer loads of water were expected to arrive in Jackson, and more than 108 tractor-trailers of water will arrive over the next few days. .

Starting Thursday, there will be seven mega-distribution sites with 36 water trucks available to the public each day, McCraney said.

Companies like Anheuser-Busch, Walmart and Save A lot, as well as voluntary organizations also donate water to the city, he added.

Banks said the city also provides flush water. “One of the first things we realized was that people need to be able to flush the toilet because that becomes an issue in making sure people have the quality of life that they need,” he said. -he declares.

“At the end of the day, we need a fix and the same attention that was given to Flint, Michigan, we need the same attention given to Jackson,” Banks said.

Reeves said FEMA received the statement asking the federal government to declare the water shortage a federal emergency.

President Joe Biden has been briefed on the water crisis in Jackson and the White House has “made it clear that the federal government is ready to offer assistance,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday.

“FEMA is working closely with state officials to identify needs, and EPA is coordinating with industry partners to expedite the delivery of critical process equipment for emergency repairs in City of Jackson water treatment facilities,” she said.

CNN’s Amir Vera, Amanda Musa and Amy Simonson contributed to this report.

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