Water Woes Linger in MS and LA After Freeze

Old fire truck

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Rising temperatures have melted the snow and ice in Mississippi and Louisiana, but tens of thousands of people still had little or no water service Monday, some waiting a week for restoration since the outages began during an extended freeze.

A City Council member in Jackson, Mississippi, said Monday that it’s time for the city to seek state and federal help.

“This is an institutional failure,” said De’Keither Stamps, who is also a state representative. He said he spent about $5,000 to install a tank on his truck so could distribute water to homebound residents.

Stamps told The Associated Press that he visited a 70-year-old woman last week without heat or water who hadn’t left her bed in two days.

“This really broke the backs of a lot of communities,” he said of the storm. “We need door-to-door check-ins with our elderly.”

Jackson is under boil-water advisory, and city workers are delivering drinking water to older and homebound residents. Water for flushing toilets was available for pickup at two local schools, and people waited in long lines Monday to fill buckets and bowls.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency has supplied 131,000 bottles of water to people statewide and is working to determine if the state has met its $4.5 million damages threshold to request a federal disaster declaration.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said he has had trouble reaching Gov. Tate Reeves. The Democratic mayor said he has tried calling the Republican governor’s personal number without getting a response. Lumumba said he usually communicates with Reeves’ chief of staff, who left the state for a family emergency.

Reeves spokeswoman Bailey Martin said the governor has no unanswered calls from the mayor.

“This is false,” Martin said. “The governor has been leading the state’s response to this crisis, and he was the one who directed that water be delivered to Jackson residents via his agency, MEMA. We have been in consistent contact with the mayor’s office and other local leaders.”

On Monday, Jackson’s Public Works Director Charles Williams said it could be the end of the week before water returns for all 161,000 residents as crews scramble to repair broken pipes.

“We are doing everything we can to get it hopefully quicker than that,” Williams said.

Williams said the water shortage occurred after frigid temperatures iced equipment and caused water lines to burst. Officials say the city’s aging water system is not built for subfreezing temperatures.

Jackson has struggled to find money for improvements.

Mississippi has a 7% sales tax on many items. With permission of the Legislature, Jackson had a local election in January 2014 to add an extra 1% sales tax in the city to improve or replace aging infrastructure, including streets riddled with pot holes and pipes that are decades old and have a history of breaking after cold weather.

Voters overwhelmingly approved the tax, which was projected to generate about $15 million a year. That is only a fraction of what is needed, though. Jackson officials said in 2014 that fixing all the city’s infrastructure problems would cost about $2 billion.

Sheila Lewis, a parent of a 19-year-old student at Jackson State University, said her son has been without water for six days on campus. The campus has been shut down during the crisis.

“We just didn’t expect the university to be out for so long,” said Lewis, who lives in a Houston suburb.

Louisiana has faced similar challenges. About 82,000 people in Louisiana lacked access to water by Monday, according to the state health department, and hundreds of thousands of people around the state were advised to boil their water before using it.

In Shreveport, Louisiana’s third-largest city, about 8,000 residential and business customers still waited for their water connection to return, according to Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins. He said Louisiana’s difficulties from the winter weather have been lost amid the problems in Texas.

“Everybody’s eyes are on Texas,” Perkins said in an interview Monday. “Nobody even knows what’s going on here. They don’t even know the damage.”

He added: “Louisiana has been treated very much like a stepchild in this crisis.”

Perkins estimated full water restoration would be complete in his northwestern Louisiana city by Tuesday, a full eight days after outages began.

But even that won’t end the water woes in Shreveport. Perkins said once water is completely restored, customers will remain under a boil advisory until Thursday or Friday, because testing will need to be completed ensuring water is safe to drink. Meanwhile, water has been trucked to hospitals and distributed to residents.

“We’ve even had our fire trucks go out and pump water into the hospitals,” Perkins said.

Families running low on supplies have found Shreveport area grocery store shelves stripped of items, with delivery trucks unable to reach the region until roads cleared.

“It’s still rough on a lot of families,” Perkins said. “Just about every grocery store in the city doesn’t have milk, water, bread, any of those types of essentials.”

More than 15,000 customers remained without power Monday in Mississippi, according to PowerOutage.us, which trackers outages nationwide. Most of the outages were in the central and southwest parts of the state.

In Louisiana, fewer than 4,000 customers remained without power.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, La. Associated Press reporters Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report. 

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