As Mississippi’s capital city entered a fourth day on Thursday with little or no water flowing from faucets.
As authorities scrambled to repair Jackson’s long damaged water treatment facility, CNN reports that a state health official advised residents of the majority Black city that they could bathe in the discolored water flowing from their shower faucets.
“Please make sure in the shower that your mouth is not open,” Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection at the Mississippi Department of Health, told residents Wednesday (Aug. 31), according to CNN. They were warned to wash this way to reduce the chances of ingesting contaminants that may be in the water.
But it remains unsafe to drink, cook or wash dishes in the sputtering murky tap water.
“It’s quite unnerving. It’s like playing Russian roulette. 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. There’s so many statements: ‘Do not drink,’ ‘Do not use,’ ‘You can use, but don’t drink,’ so you’re like, ‘What do I really do?’” Jackson resident Shirley Harrington told the Associated Press on Thursday (Sept. 1).
The city of 150,000 residents was already under a boil-water order before flooding from the Pearl River on Monday exacerbated long-standing problems at one of the city’s two water treatment plants.
CNN reports that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell planned to visit Jackson on Friday (Sept. 2) after President Joe Biden’s approval Tuesday of an emergency declaration for the city.
On Thursday, state officials announced that they are making progress. Water tanks were refilled, treatment resumed and water pressure increased at the O.B. Curtis Water Plant, the AP reported.
Gov. Tate Reeves said at a news conference on Thursday that seven new “megasites” opened for water and hand sanitizer distribution. He also activated 600 National Guard troops to assist with the state’s crisis response.
“To everyone in the city: I know that you are dealing with a profoundly unfair situation,” the AP quoted Reeves. “It’s frustrating, it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.”
On Monday, Reeves declared a state of emergency after torrential rainfall and flooding from the Pearl River caused more damage to the treatment plant. After approving the emergency declaration, Biden called Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba on Wednesday to discuss the federal response efforts, including support from FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Jackson’s population is about 83 percent Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For decades, city officials couldn’t afford to make timely repairs to the water system as the tax base eroded from white flight to the suburbs when public school integration started in 1970. Today, about 25 percent of the residents live in poverty.