Jackson, Mississippi, water crisis: FEMA chief visits Friday


(NewsNation) — Over 150,000 people in Jackson, Mississippi are still being affected by a boil water advisory that’s been in place for weeks, although things on Friday seemed to be improving somewhat.

One resident, Shirley Harrington, boils water in her kitchen to make it safe to use, while a full bucket and cooler sit nearby in her bathroom, helping to store what continues to be in short supply.
“It’s like playing Russian roulette,” Harrington said. “You don’t know if you’re going to wake up with water, don’t know if you got water, don’t know what condition the water is in.”

Heavy rainfall and flooding have led to problems at two main treatment plants. For houses and businesses,
that means little to no water pressure, and being unable to flush toilets and take a shower. Schools have had to hold classes online, and restaurants haven’t been able to operate.

Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Errick L. Greene told NewsNation he hopes to have students back in the classroom by next week.

Schools have worked with agencies such as the fire department to bring in water to manually flush toilets.

“Our team has built systems and structures to maintain communications with the city, government and others to try to make sense of what’s going on and to try to see a little further down the road, so that we can plan and give notice to families and make pivots as we need to,” Greene said.

Even while problems continue, though, Friday morning brought signs of progress.

Officials said they made progress overnight refilling tanks, treating water and increasing pressure at the facility at the root of the latest water woes: the O.B. Curtis Water Plant.

Residents closer to the facility saw their water pressure approach normal levels, Jackson said in a news release, though many in the city still had none.

There have been seven distribution sites opened in Jackson where people are handing out bottles of water and hand sanitizer, and 600 National Guard troops are aiding in the response.
Later today, the head administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is headed to Jackson, after President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.

“I’ve been talking to Mississippi. I’ve talked to the mayor. I’ve talked to the congressman,” Biden said. “We’ve offered every single thing available.”

The issues with the water haven’t just happened because of flooding. Severe weather only exacerbated long-standing problems with Jackson’s troubled water system. Maintenance on the water treatment plant has been deferred for years.

Greene said this isn’t the first time the schools faced bouts of low or even no water pressure or boil water notices.

“We’ve built a bit of a muscle around this, but it’s kind of the muscle that you don’t want to build, you don’t want such frequent challenges of these types,” he said. “But our folks are resilient.”

Mississippi State Rep. Ronnie Crudup Jr. said on NewsNation’s “Morning in America” that a lot of Jackson mayors have tried to address this issue, but a lack of funding and resources stopped them from being able to do so in a timely matter.

“Last year, we had the freeze that really put a hamper on us,” Crudup Jr. said. “We were out for a month last year, because of the ice freeze in February and March. So now we continue with this fractured infrastructure … the world is now seeing the problem that we do have.”

Media reports, such as NPR, say it could take up to $2 billion to fix Jackson’s water system.

A month-long boil order has taken its toll on residents, Crudup said, but there have been signs of improvement. On Friday, he said, his water was clear after being brown, and he was able to flush his toilet and take a shower.

“This morning, I actually had water pressure,” he said. “Earlier this week, I didn’t have anything. And so it feels good to be able to get something. And hopefully, we’ll get to the point very soon that we will have clean water that people can depend on.”

However, the water is still not safe to drink, Crudup Jr. cautioned, which is why the water distributions have been so helpful.

Leaning on friends has also been a boon during a tough time.

“Yesterday, I had to go to a friend’s house to take a shower,” Crudup Jr. said. “And so these are the things we try to help make happen.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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