'A total crisis': Life in Mississippi's capital disrupted by water loss

·3 min read

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) - Marsha Lewis, a bartender in Mississippi's state capital city, said she went to fill up her bathtub on Monday when she heard a local water treatment plant had shut down but was "horrified" to see what looked to her like raw sewage flowing from the faucet.

By Tuesday morning, after the governor declared a state of emergency for Jackson and neighboring communities, she had no water at all.

"I'm just mad. Mad at the city and who all is responsible," said Lewis, 42, who has been washing her hair with bottled water for the past month, due to a citywide boiled water alert. "We pay our bills and get no water," she complained.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, a Democrat, said at a press conference on Tuesday that contrary to such reports, "there was no raw, untreated water that went out" on Monday.

Many of the 180,000 people who live in the area served by the treatment plant had no choice on Tuesday but to stockpile water, close their businesses and keep their children home. The state said residents would have to endure life without running water indefinitely as officials scrambled to make repairs.

The shutdown has already had wide-reaching consequences. Jackson's public schools closed on Tuesday, moving classes online. Restaurants told hundreds of employees not to come to work, while others struggled to stay open, serving bottled water to customers and hoping their tap water would last the day.

"We could lose pressure anytime and then we'd have to close," said Andy Nesenson, general manager at the Tex-Mex-style Iron Horse Grill in Jackson, one of the lucky businesses that still had water on Tuesday morning.

"And we're just barely hanging on," he added. Since the boiled-water alert went into effect, Nesenson has had to spend about $2,500 a week for truckloads of bottled water and canned sodas to serve customers.

Lumumba attributed the water plant breakdown to recent flooding of the Pearl River, but Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves, a Republican, said years of poor maintenance had worn down the facility's pumps to the point where it could no longer produce running water.

Mississippi's emergency management agency on Monday took on the job of distributing bottled drinking water and tanker trucks full of water for other needs around the city.

State Senator David Blount, a Democrat who represents part of Jackson, called on the city and state to come together to make a "major investment" in the city's infrastructure.

"This is a total crisis," Blount said when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Blount's house in Jackson still has running water, but he said he and his family have filled their bathtub with water so they can use it to flush the toilet in case they lose water as well.

City residents are already used to losing water after heavy flooding. Jeff Good, 58, a proprietor of several local eateries that all remained closed on Tuesday, said he had also filled his bathtub and several buckets with water when he heard floods were coming.

"Unfortunately, this is not our first rodeo with this happening in Jackson," he said.

(This story refiles to restore dropped word "plant" in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Julia Harte; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)