Weeks after storms, water crisis continues in Mississippi

US & World
Chase Toussaint, Matthew Riley

Mississippi Army National Guard Sgt. Chase Toussaint, right, and Staff Sgt. Matthew Riley, both with the Maneuver Area Training Equipment Site of Camp Shelby, fill 5-gallon water drums with non-potable water, Monday, March 1, 2021, at a Jackson, Miss., water distribution site on the New Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church parking lot. Water for flushing toilets was being distributed at seven sites in Mississippi’s capital city, more than 10 days after winter storms wreaked havoc on the city’s water system because the system is still struggling to maintain consistent water pressure, authorities said. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Frustrations are mounting in Mississippi’s largest city, more than two weeks since winter storms and freezing weather ravaged the city’s water system — knocking out water for drinking and making it impossible for many to even flush their toilets.

For more than two weeks now, residents in the city of 160,000 have been warned to boil any water that does come out of kitchen taps before using it.

“I pray it comes back on,” Jackson resident Nita Smith said. “I’m not sure how much more of this we can take.”

Smith has not had water at her house for nearly three weeks now, she said.

Smith is concerned about her mother who has diabetes, since not having water makes it difficult to take her medicine. Her mother and most of the other older people on her street don’t drive anymore, so she’s been helping them get water to clean themselves and flush their toilets, she said.

A key focus of city crews this week is filling the system’s water tanks to an optimal level, officials said in an update late Tuesday. Workers are also continuing to fix dozens of water main breaks and leaks throughout the capital city.

City officials on Wednesday planned to continue distributing water for flushing toilets at several pick-up points.

But they have given no specific timeline for when the crisis will be resolved, nor have they said how many residents remain without water. It is difficult to estimate how many customers remained without water Wednesday, said Michelle Atoa, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

The crisis has taken a toll on businesses. Jeff Good is co-owner of three Jackson restaurants, and two of them remained closed Wednesday. In an update to his customers posted on Facebook, Good said the businesses have insurance, but he’s concerned about his employees.

“We will not be financially ruined,” Good wrote. “The spirits of our team members are my biggest concern.

“A true malaise and depression is setting in,” he added. “I am staying in touch, keeping them informed of the facts, trying to find the path each day.”

Bonnie Bishop, 68, and her husband, Mike, 63, have been without water at their Jackson home for 14 days as both struggle with health problems.

She’s recovering after a three-and-half-month hospital stay with the coronavirus and back at home but still in therapy to learn how to walk again and deals with constant neuropathy in her hands and feet.

She has not been able to soak her feet in warm water, something that usually helps with the neuropathy, or help her husband with gathering water to boil for cooking for cleaning.

Mike Bishop just had surgery on his elbow. The first week of the couple was without water, he still had staples in his arm and was hauling five-gallon containers from his truck, his wife said. Bonnie Bishop said she told her husband not to strain himself, but he wouldn’t listen. They need water, and feel like they have no choice.

“It’s a lot of wear and tear on the elderly,” she said.

On Monday, the couple drove 25 miles (40 kilometers) to Mike’s mother’s house to do laundry.

“My greatest concerns are sanitation and hygiene,” Bonnie Bishop said. “I am sure that is everyone’s concern.”

Jackson’s water system has not been able to provide a sustainable flow of water throughout the city since the mid-February storms, city officials have said.

The system “basically crashed like a computer and now we’re trying to rebuild it,” Public Works Director Charles Williams said at a recent briefing.

The city’s water mains are more than a century old, and its infrastructure needs went unaddressed for decades, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has said.

“We more than likely have more than a $2 billion issue with our infrastructure,” he said.

Jackson voters in 2014 approved a 1-cent local sales tax to pay for improvements to roads and water and sewer systems.

On Tuesday, the city council voted to seek legislative approval for another election to double that local tax to 2 cents a dollar.

Republican Gov. Tate Reeves would also have to agree to letting Jackson have the tax election.

“Most things should be on the table,” Reeves said Tuesday, “but I do think it’s really important that the city of Jackson start collecting their water bill payments before they start going and asking everyone else to pony up more money.”

Jackson has had problems for years with its water billing system. The city has also has had water quality issues for years.

Melanie Deaver Hanlin, who was without water for 14 days, was flushing her toilets with pool water and showering at friends’ homes. She said serious updates need to be made to Jackson’s water system.

“The problem needs to be fixed, not patched,” she said. “That’s the issue now — poor maintenance for far too long, and Jackson residents are paying the price.”

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Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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