Mississippi: Jackson residents told to shower with mouths closed as contaminated water woes continue

Footage captured by Jackson residents shows contaminated water coming out of the taps in their homes

Mississippi officials say residents can shower with water from their taps but they should close their mouths, as the city enters a fifth day with little to no clean water.

Residents are seeing cloudy, discoloured water coming out of their faucets and are being told it should be adequate for sanitation purposes.

They can't use the water to drink, cook or wash dishes, but they can shower and wash their hands in it, officials said.

The problem, which comes on top of a boil-water notice in effect for more than a month, has upended life in the city of roughly 150,000 residents, where schools were shuttered this week, businesses are forced to adapt and people have had to wait in long lines for bottled water they can use to drink, cook or brush their teeth.

Jackson resident Bennie Hudson pours boiling water into her sink before washing dishes. Credit: AP

Mississippi officials have set up emergency distribution centres for handouts of water and hand sanitiser on Thursday.

Officials made some progress overnight in refilling tanks, treating water and increasing pressure at the OB Curtis Water Plant, the facility at the root of the latest water woes.

Residents closer to the facility had pressure approaching normal levels while many in the city still had little or no water pressure, the city said in a news release, as the city is working to obtain more chemicals needed for treatment.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on Monday night after excessive rainfall and flooding from the Pearl River exacerbated problems affecting the city's already long-troubled water system.

“It’s quite unnerving,” Jackson resident Shirley Harrington said on Thursday. “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?’”

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The latest available figures from the city showed that 80% of the water system’s customers had little or no water as of Wednesday morning. It was unclear how many had been substantially restored as of Thursday.

Reeves said businesses are suffering major economic harm because of the crisis. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Stephen McCraney said the state will look into the availability of federal Small Business Administration loans to aid them.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state. Biden called Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba on Wednesday to discuss response efforts, including support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure we’re helping the people of Mississippi,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday. “We are in close touch.”

Jackson locals have been using bottled water to drink, cook, and brush their teeth. Credit: AP

At a midday news conference with Mayor Lumumba and other officials, Reeves announced the opening of seven sites for distributing drinking water, non-potable water and hand sanitiser.

He said 600 National Guard members were aiding the response. The seven new “megasites” follow smaller scale distribution efforts at city fire stations, churches, nonprofits and businesses.

“To everyone in the city: I know that you are dealing with a profoundly unfair situation,” Reeves said. “It’s frustrating, it’s wrong and it needs to be fixed.”

The governor and McCraney promised that the state would look for long-term solutions to the city’s water problems.