Since the devastating winter storms in February, thousands of people living in the state of Mississippi have been cut off or restricted from running water, and left without the ability to bathe, cook or flush their toilets due to deficiencies with the state’s energy grid.
In the city of Jackson, Mississippi, many residents have had to rely on distribution sites for flushable water and bottles of water since winter storms and inclement weather hit the area around Valentine’s Day, according to The Daily Beast.
Enrika Williams, a local chef, went 10 days without running water available in her home. Williams had to shack up with family members in the area, who had access to water, for her household of four relatives to be able to shower and do laundry.
When she needed flushing water, Williams caught melting snow in her water pails and waited for a sunny day to prepare it for use. Although she now has had her access to running water restored, the chef said she’s disappointed with city officials’ response and lack of communication.
“The thing that became frustrating was the tone of accountability just wasn’t there,” she said. “There was no plan that we could see. The press conferences were redundant. If you don’t know when it’s coming back, what is being done to help us?”
Six years ago, Jackson city officials approved a sales tax increase designed to help update much of its deteriorating infrastructure, according to USA Today. However, Mayor Chokwe Lumumba said the $15 million that it generates each year is only a fraction of the $2 billion it will need in restoration efforts.
This year, locals say that the scale of the water restriction is much larger, affecting almost all of the city. However, one predominantly white pocket of the city remains nearly unfazed by water issues.
Laurie Bertram Roberts, who heads the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, said the city’s issues have been felt in Black communities harder than most.
“Part of the problem is that it’s everywhere,” Roberts, who is working to distribute cases of water to people in need, said. “Usually when we have an outage it’s in one neighborhood, so people are used to running over to their friends’ house or their auntie’s house to take a shower or fill up some jugs. Usually, you can grab your buckets and find some place to fill them, whatever. But when it’s the whole damn city? Where are the Black people supposed to go? It’s not like this is everywhere. It’s where the mostly Black population in Jackson lives.”
The city of Jackson has a nearly 30 percent poverty rate, according to Welfare Info. Williams expressed that many of the people in her community can’t afford to buy packaged water in excess.
“People can’t afford that,” she said. “Water is a basic necessity and it just brought a lot of frustration, anger, and disappointment.”
Jackson resident Jamario Townsend added, “It’s been two weeks and I know families with infants who don’t have water. The city needs help.”
Many locals have criticized Lumumba, who asked for patience from residents despite providing “no definitive timeline as to when the water will be restored within the tanks,” according to the Daily Beast.
When Lumumba said Republican Gov. Tate Reeves wouldn’t return his calls for help, Reeves’ office responded that Lumumba hadn’t attempted to call.
Lumumba told the Daily Beast that problems with the power infrastructure is nothing new to the area, “but this is different. This was an act of God that sent old systems into havoc resulting in severe water outages and trauma for our residents.”
He added, “our systems were never meant to endure days of ice storms and sub-zero temperatures coupled by road conditions that prevented the delivery of critical supplies. It has been a difficult few weeks. Our recovery efforts continue. We are not there yet, but we are doing everything we can to restore water to Jackson residents.”
In agreement, Reeves pointed to “50 years of negligence and ignoring the challenges of the pipes and the system,” as the cause of the residents’ plight.
“That 50 years of deferred maintenance is not something that we’re going to fix in the next six to eight hours,” Reeves said.