Winter weather cripples water supplies across Deep South

Jackson, miss. – A cold snap sweeping through the Deep South has upended water systems as local officials scrambled to fix widespread leaks and broken pipes, forcing some to take drastic measures to survive without reliable running water.

After that, infrastructure failures appeared one after another. days of freezing temperatures In areas with abnormally cold weather for prolonged periods of time.

In places like Jackson, Mississippi, where the water problem is severe, the water system partially collapsed late August, and several weather-related failures. Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a local state of emergency Monday night because its troubled water system was unable to generate enough pressure due to pipe ruptures and leaks.

Crews have spent days searching for the leak, but city officials say pressure remains low or non-existent.

Tekemia Bennett said she hadn’t had water since Friday. She and her four children woke up on Christmas without water.

“Christmas stole it like the Grinch came. I couldn’t cook for my kids. It was more like we were in survival mode,” Bennett said. “My kids are opening their presents, but we don’t even have water. I can’t even make Christmas dinner.”

People flocked to water distribution points set up by the city, but “there were lines as far as the eye could see,” Bennett said. She went online two days in a row and finally gave up.

It takes a lot of water to flush a toilet without any pressure, a hot commodity for Jackson. So she started covering the toilet with plastic bags and trash can liners.

“We literally pooped in bags and tied them up and threw them in the trash,” Bennett said. “It felt like I was living in a village in Africa.”

Across the Deep South, broken pipes are causing hundreds of leaks and water towers are draining faster than treatment plants can replenish them.

Selma, Ala., has entered its third day of trying to find the leak and began shutting down major lines and disrupting service on Monday, Mayor James Perkins Jr. said in a statement , to try to isolate where the largest leak occurs.

Water crews in Florence, South Carolina, who had to search for a large, hidden leak along nearly every waterline in the city, finally succeeded Tuesday in restoring water pressure, officials said.

Georgia also continues to have widespread water issues. Officials began distributing water in Clayton County, a suburb south of Atlanta, on Monday after a pipe burst on Sunday left many customers without water.

Maria Landeros, who has lived in Forest Park for 30 years, told WXIA-TV in Spanish: “It’s not a good feeling and we’re sad because at Christmas, I wake up and make tamales , and then realized we had no water.” “It made me cry because I wanted to cook for my family. Now we’re worried because we don’t know when the water will come back.”

City officials distributed 200 tanks of water in three hours, and cars formed a long line around the corner from the Forest Park Police Station.

“We’re here for the most basic of needs — the bathroom. We can put off showers, but we want water to rest. When that happens, I feel like we’re back 50 or 60 years ago,” says Victor Landeros.

Water is also being distributed in Milledgeville in central Georgia, where hundreds of residents have been without water since Sunday because of a broken water main. Some residents told WMAZ-TV on Monday that they used buckets to fetch water from ponds and swimming pools to flush their toilets.

Many other areas reported low water pressure and advised residents to boil water, including large swathes of DeKalb and Forsyth counties in the Atlanta suburbs.

Bottled water was distributed Tuesday in Memphis, Tennessee, with authorities urging people to “limit all non-essential water use.”

Memphis Light, Gas and Water said in a statement that it developed an emergency drought management plan on Monday that prohibits non-essential water use, such as car washes, while the utility locates, repairs or isolates major water breaks and service interruptions. The rupture caused a significant pressure drop in the drinking water system.

The water problems began on Dec. 24, when the utility said it experienced multiple outages due to cold weather and power outages. Memphis Light, Gas and Water, which serves more than 440,000 customers in Memphis and Shelby counties, said at the time that all customers should conserve and boil water when using it, just in case.

In Kentucky, the Meade County Water Department asked its 5,000 customers to conserve water. But then it said in a statement that it was unable to keep up with demand due to cold temperatures and increased demand and would temporarily cut off service to some areas so that storage tanks could be refilled.

Parts of Asheville, North Carolina, are experiencing water outages or have been advised to boil water. A water utility south of the city has been unable to produce water since Dec. 24, the city said Tuesday afternoon, and the problem was exacerbated by line outages caused by extremely cold temperatures.

Officials are encouraging people across the South to use dripping faucets during the prolonged cold snap because water running through pipes is less likely to freeze. But once the temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), they say people need to stop dripping. Thawing also means that frozen, cracked pipes can suddenly start leaking.

Water expands as it freezes, causing unprotected pipes to burst. Then when the temperature rises, those cracked pipes start leaking hundreds or thousands of gallons of water.

In a Sun Belt city like Jackson, the water system can’t handle inclement weather. Tens of thousands of Jackson residents in the Mississippi state capital also went without running water for days during the 2021 cold snap, but the water system failed again in late August.

Bennett has vowed she won’t be living in the city this time next year.

“I know they say it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But I can’t wait until it stops getting better,” she said.

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Associated Press reporters Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Jeff Amy in Atlanta; Rebecca Reynolds in Louisville, Kentucky; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina made a contribution.

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