NASHVILLE – Over forty degrees is good, but the thaw has not ended the problems facing southern cities still reeling from a frozen week.
Water pipes still regularly break as temperatures rise, causing water pressure to drop. Maintenance crews prepare for flooding caused by melting ice.
Airlines have canceled flights. Hospitals have struggled to stay sanitary. Schools without clean water told teachers not to come. The water treatment plants could not receive chemicals because the roads were too icy for trucks to pass.
Sub-zero temperatures from February 15 wreaked havoc on water supplies, leaving some southerners without water for the entire week. And many of these people are still waiting. It no longer freezes, but the problems haven’t gone away.
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Boil water advisories, in which residents were required to heat tap water (if they had any) to kill bacteria, were in effect in parts of Arkansas from the eastern tip of Tennessee to the shores of the River. Gulf of Louisiana. Tap water has become unreliable, and the inability to flush the toilet in some areas has resulted in people lining up for water donations.
In Jackson, Mississippi, last week cars waited to fill 15 gallon buckets for a gift from the city.
“I owe you the honesty. I owe you the truth,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “We don’t have a definitive timeline on water restoration.”
In Jackson, 13 water breaks have been reported in the city so far and more are expected as the thaw continues. In 2018, the city suffered more than 200 ruptured water pipes in similar freezing conditions.
Residents of three of Louisiana’s 10 largest cities – Alexandria, Lake Charles and Shreveport – have been without running water or on boiling order for a week, nearly a quarter of the state’s 4.6 million people not having potable tap water.
State Representative Thomas Pressley, R-Shreveport, said on Twitter that he and other officials visited the Canaan Tower Apartments social housing complex, where residents were without water.
“What happens there should never happen in a first country in the world,” Pressley tweeted, saying he and others are working to provide resources to residents. “To disturb is an understatement.”
These boil water advisories will be in effect until at least Friday.
In Hinds County, Mississippi, authorities are monitoring rising water levels on the Pearl and Big Black Rivers as the ice begins to melt.
Emergency Management Director Joey Perkins said the Pearl River is currently below the 28-foot flood threshold, the level where the river is at risk of flooding. He advised residents to be prepared and keep an eye on the ministry’s posts on its website and on social media.
Pumping station problems in Tennessee have forced water to shut off to more than 260,000 homes.
Water was not the only concern. Electricity has been cut in some areas, leaving millions of people from Minnesota to Texas without heat.
While the horrific conditions in Texas have gained national attention, the problems in the South have prompted some officials to seek help.
In all, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 44 water systems on Sunday with outages affecting more than 80,000 customers and 303 systems with boil water advisories affecting more than one million customers.
“Louisiana was treated like the nation’s daughter-in-law during this disaster, and Shreveport was treated like Louisiana’s daughter-in-law,” Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins said. “It’s frustrating.”
In Memphis, teachers at Shelby County schools have been delayed from returning to class at least Monday and Tuesday this week. The water was not safe enough to have teachers on campus.
Restaurants in the Memphis area were asked to boil water, and if they chose not to follow that order, they were asked to control themselves and shut down.
Memphis Light Gas and Water customers will need to continue to boil their drinking water and conserve water for the foreseeable future.
“We are still in this state and will be until further notice,” said MLGW President and CEO JT Young.
Utilities officials initially asked the Memphians to conserve water until noon Monday. On Sunday, they said they were extending this request indefinitely.
The search is underway in Memphis for the broken water pipes, which are typically four to six feet underground.
So far, Memphis has not had a problem with its fire department getting water. MLGW has agreed to temporarily increase the water pressure in the area of a fire so that the Memphis Fire Department can do their job.
There is a bit of optimism in Memphis.
Young said the MLGW was turning a corner in the battle to take control of the many factors contributing to low pressure in the water system.
“We are continually moving in the right direction. We see our pump stations getting better every day, we’re still a little bit in the red, but we’re improving, ”said Young.
Contribution: Laura Testino, Corinne S Kennedy,Micaela watts, Greg Hilburn and Justin Vicory, USA TODAY Network