Mississippi governor declares state of emergency as end to Jackson water crisis nowhere in sight

JACKSON, Miss. – Governor Tate Reeves declared a emergency state Tuesday, saying a water crisis in Mississippi’s largest city threatens “critical needs” and has no end in sight.

While Jackson residents are used to water issues, the current shortage of running water is particularly dangerous, he said.

“This is a very different situation than a boil water advisory – which is also a serious situation that the people of Jackson have become tragically oblivious to,” Reeves said in a prepared statement.

“Until it’s fixed, that means we don’t have reliable, large-scale running water. That means the city can’t produce enough water to flush the toilet so reliable, fight fires and meet other critical needs.”

An SUV rests in floodwaters northeast of Jackson, Mississippi on Monday.
An SUV rests in floodwaters northeast of Jackson, Mississippi on Monday. Roger V. Solis/AP

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said he hopes the new crisis will spur various levels of government to address the city’s deteriorating water treatment infrastructure.

“The City of Jackson is grateful for the support we are now receiving from the state,” Lumumba told reporters Tuesday.

“We have gone it alone for nearly two years on the Jackson water crisis. I have said many times that it is not a question of whether our system will fail, but a question of when our system fails.”

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency will take the initiative to provide bottled water, Reeves said.

“Replacing our largest city’s running water infrastructure with human distribution is an extremely complicated logistical task,” he said. “We need to provide it for up to 180,000 people – for an unknown period of time.”

Lumumba declared a water system emergency on Monday night after Pearl River flooding disrupted a major water treatment facility.

Lumumba, who did not set a timeline Tuesday for a full restoration, insisted service had improved over the past 24 hours.

“It’s stable. It’s increased since yesterday…in terms of the number of people with access to water,” Lumumba said, adding that the best gains have come overnight when few people are awake and using water. some water.

A Jackson firefighter stuffs crates of bottled water into a resident’s SUV August 18 as part of the city’s response to longstanding water system issues. Roger V. Solis/AP

Jackson, a city of 150,000 people, nearly 83 percent of whom are black, has long been plagued by infrastructure issues that have made clean, reliable water a challenge for years.

The Environmental Protection Agency published a long report in 2020, describing the main shortcomings in Jackson’s water system, which included failure to replace lead pipes, faulty monitoring equipment, and inadequate personnel.

The city is looking to hire retired employees for part-time work, up to 20 hours a week, so as not to violate the terms of their pension plans, Lumumba said.

“The effort is underway … to increase our staff,” he said.

The capital is home to Jackson State University, where the historically black school’s football team is struggling to prepare for its upcoming season opening because of the water crisis.

The team’s coach, former NFL star Deion Sanders, said the program was in “crisis mode”.

“We have no water. Water means we have no air conditioning. We cannot use the toilet. We have no water. Therefore, we have no ice cream. Sanders said on his Instagram page. “So right now we’re operating in crisis mode.”

Sanders, member of the Pro Football Hall of Famesaid he was trying to get his student-athletes into hotels with running water before they hit the road for their game against Florida A&M on Sunday.

The outspoken coach insisted the water crisis won’t stop his side from being ‘what we want to be, and that’s dominant’.

“The devil is a lie,” Sanders added. “He’s not going to get us today.”

Bracey Harris reported from Jackson and David K. Li and Phil McCausland from New York.

Phil McCausland contributed.

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