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Jackson water crisis: Troops hand out 1.1m bottles of water in a day

todaySeptember 2, 2022 6

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By Chi Chi Izundu

in Jackson, Mississippi

National guard troop with water on a forkliftImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Long queues have formed outside water distribution centres as temperatures rise above 90F (32C)

More than a million bottles of water have been handed out in less than a day to people in Jackson, Mississippi due to a long-running water supply issue.

Nearly 200,000 people in the state’s capital have been unable to use tap water for five days after flooding disabled a water treatment centre.

Officials say progress is being made to restore the supply as the Labor Day holiday weekend approaches.

But locals say relief is desperately needed due to the sweltering heat.

Both Mississippi National Guard troops – who have handed out 1.1m bottles of water in 24 hours – and an army of local volunteers have been helping to get water to people who are unable to drink tap water, bathe or flush toilets.

“It’s been awful going without water,” Shirley Barnes told the BBC as she queued for more bottles on Friday. “It’s been a horrific experience.”

“Trying to do your normal routines, that’s been the hardest. Trying to boil water. Washing your face, taking your bath, cooking. It’s like you living back in the caveman days.”

“I never thought I would be in this predicament, but here we are,” she added.

Image caption,

Shirley Barnes said the problems with the city’s water supply had been “a horrific experience”

Debbie Upchurch, a local church volunteer, has been bringing bottled water to Jackson to distribute to locals.

Her daughter, a teacher in the community, has not been able to hold classes in-person this week and has been teaching online instead.

“Right now they can’t meet for class because there’s no water to cook with or [for] the restrooms,” she said. “Sometimes that’s the only meal they have, is what they have at breakfast and lunch at the schools.”

First Lieutenant Roman Ramirez from the Mississippi National Guard told the BBC that his site was staffed with 44 soldiers who had distributed around 80,000 bottles by midday on Friday.

“There’s a lot of emotion for the citizens here, but our job is just to show up and help where we can – give as much water as we can,” he said.

Image caption,

First Lieutenant Roman Ramirez told the BBC his troops were giving out water as fast as they could

Jackson resident Ryan Bell lives opposite the state fairground, where bottled water is being distributed.

“Everyone is going through this crisis, everyone in the city of Jackson, we’re all in this together,” he said.

Even before the flooding that caused the supply problem, some residents in this majority black city have not had reliable access to tap water.

“It’s been an ongoing issue,” said Mr Bell, who runs a local construction company.

“We do have an ageing infrastructure being an older city. All we ask for really is help, support, understanding and prayers for the people of Jackson.”

A state of emergency has been declared by President Joe Biden.

Some residents do not even have enough water pressure to flush toilets, and are having to use portaloos that have popped up around the city including outside the statehouse building.

Meanwhile, long queues have formed outside water distribution centres as temperatures rise above 90F (32C).

Jackson’s mayor said on Friday that progress was being made to restore the plant back to normal operations, but there was still no timetable for how long the issues would likely last.

Homes and businesses near to the plant have had their water pressure restored, but buildings further away still have weak or no water pressure.

As the water pressure increases, officials warn that it could cause pipes to rupture across the city.

Additional reporting by Max Matza

Media caption,

“I’ll do whatever it takes to survive”

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