State and federal officials mount response to Jackson, Miss., water crisis

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JACKSON, Miss. – Governor Tate Reeves Thursday deployed 600 National Guard troops to massive water distribution sites in the Mississippi capital as workers struggled to repair beleaguered factory pumps that left many without reliable running water for weeks, with no end in sight.

State officials opened seven massive water distribution sites manned by National Guard troops from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., in addition to city sites operated by fire stations, churches and nonprofits. Cities across the region also carry water shipments to help Jackson.

By noon, cars were lined up on state property, including the state fairgrounds, where officials told reporters that the sites would be supplied by 108 trucks over the next few days, enough water for the city’s 150,000 residents, plus 30,000 outside the city. workers of the city.

“To everyone in town, I know you’re dealing with a very unfair situation,” said Reeves, flanked by state officials and Jackson mayor Chokwe Antar. Lumumba. “It’s frustrating, it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.”

He praised some progress: By Thursday, one of the plant’s two broken pumps had been replaced with an emergency pump, doubling the water pressure from the day before, Reeves said. The second pump was expected to be repaired early next week, although it was not clear when water supplies would be restored to the entire city, he said.

Reeves declared a state of emergency late Monday after flooding from the Pearl River exacerbated problems at one of the city’s two water treatment plants. The city has had a report of boiling water since late July due to what the state called quality problems, and the water plant has been plagued with problems in recent years, including staff shortages, failed environmental inspections, a freeze and a fire.

On Tuesday, President Biden approved a state emergency declaration and on Wednesday called Lumumba to discuss response efforts, which include support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

An employee said Biden expressed his desire to address the crisis and help rebuild Jackson’s water infrastructure.

Lumumba said Vice President Harris had also reached out to him, while FEMA Administrator Dana Criswell spoke with Reeves and was due to visit Jackson on Friday. FEMA officials and EPA experts were also on site to coordinate with state teams, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“We focus our efforts on immediate needs to ensure safe drinking water is available to those who need it,” said FEMA spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg tweeted.

Reeves, a Republican, and Lumumba, a Democrat, have both been criticized for letting the city’s infrastructure problems languish, criticism reflected in scathing online comments from residents during Thursday’s live-streamed briefing. But Reeves dismissed accusations of bias and the couple invoked the need to work together.

“My representation here is a symbol of the unity that is taking place, a symbol of the coalition working arm in arm to ensure we keep the most primary focus on the people of Jackson,” said Lumumba, noting that “as the governor said, there may come a time when certain other questions come up.”

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” ahead of the briefing, Lumumba said the city had been warning of problems for three years, saying that “it’s not a question of if the systems will fail, but when.”

“It has certainly been an accumulation of challenges and divestments over the years, over three decades. …” he said. “We’re glad the state is on board. We’ve been doing it alone for far too long.” He said state and federal aid will be needed, calling the broken water system a “problem beyond the city’s capacity” as repairs would cost an estimated $2 billion.

Historically, Jackson’s water problems have disproportionately affected low-income black communities, said LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of local advocacy group Black Voters Matter.

“The root of this crisis is systemic racism and the willful failure of local and state governments to divert infrastructure funds that could have helped solve this problem years ago,” they said in a statement, noting that the city had been affected for approximately 83 percent are black.

“This crisis is not an isolated event,” they wrote, citing the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which sparked a criminal investigation, the firing of officials and a $641 million class action settlement this year.

Councilor Aaron Banks, who represents Jackson’s mostly black, low-income South side for six years, said: it has been disproportionately affected by water supply disruptions, for which he blamed not only the race but also the class. Banks visited the water plant on Thursday and said he was encouraged to see federal experts arrive to help.

“We’re praying that one of the pumps running now doesn’t break because there’s no backup pump,” he said. “There is now a good flow. The point is you have a lot of outdated equipment and it contributes to things breaking down especially when the system has been under so much stress.”

He feared that the rain predicted in the coming days would re-swell the Pearl River and lead to further flooding.

He lived in ‘Deep South Jackson’, he said, he hasn’t been without flooding for a week in the past two years. Lately, he’s been showering at his mother’s house nearby, which has spring water.

“For us, unfortunately, it’s becoming a norm,” Banks said.

City water pressure and quality remained unreliable throughout the city on Thursday, from the south side to the Tony Fondren neighborhood north of downtown and the high-rise social housing for the elderly and disabled. Jackson schools held classes online as they have since Tuesday, some restaurants were closed, and portable restrooms appeared outside the Capitol and Jackson State University.

Across the city, nonprofits such as the Mississippi Rapid Response Coalition, which is made up of more than 30 organizations in the state, have set up water distribution centers in the midst of affected neighborhoods. The hour-long lines in those centers sometimes stretch for nearly a mile.

Sarah Stripp, director of the nonprofit Springboard to Opportunities, has attempted to provide water to 700 families the group works with in federally subsidized housing.

“It’s been chaos,” she said. “Water pressure varies depending on where people are in the city. It has gone up and down in all the communities we work in. There have been times when it was clear, when it turned brown.”

She said older residents are having trouble finding transportation to water distribution sites. And her group struggles to find water suppliers inside and outside the state.

“Yesterday we were able to find Memphis closest,” she said. The group ended up paying $2,000 to bring in water from Alabama, she said, and still wasn’t sure how much would arrive Friday.

Kali Akuno, co-founder and co-director of Cooperation Jackson, said grassroots organizations are struggling to meet the huge need. Two hours before the opening was scheduled for Thursday morning, people began lining up at one of the group’s distribution locations.

“This is unbearable,” said Veronica Jackson, a 39-year-old mother of two boys, ages 6 and 14. “We pay $2 a gallon for water, and that’s if you can even find it.”

But Jackson is lucky. Her youngest son’s private school has remained open, and she can leave her 14-year-old at home to take Zoom classes alone while she works. She says it’s not ideal, but she has to keep working, partly to keep paying for water.

“I’ve been paying anywhere from $300 to $400 a month on water bills and you can’t even use the water half the time,” she said.

Before Thursday, the governor and mayor had held separate daily press conferences to update residents about the crisis, which, according to Jessica Carter, director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, highlights the core problem facing the residents of Jackson. are confronted.

“The governor speaks of unity and togetherness in all his speeches,” Carter said. “But it seems like they can’t even be in the same room.”

Carter, who moved to Jackson three years ago, said the first thing everyone told her not to drink the water without filtering it first. Now she’s worried about even using it to bathe her 2-year-old daughter.

“I was very concerned about giving my daughter a bath,” she said. “It’s bath time. She’s a kid. She likes to put things in her mouth while bathing, so I have to be extra vigilant.”


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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