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Heavy rain and flooding leave Jackson, Miss., residents without running water


People in Mississippi's capital are facing a water crisis after heavy rains and flooding overwhelmed the city's main water treatment plant.


President Biden declared a statewide emergency, while Jackson schools and restaurants and businesses have temporarily closed their doors. Officials say they don't know when safe drinking water will be available again.

FADEL: Associated Press reporter Michael Goldberg joins us now from Jackson to discuss the latest. Good morning, Michael.

MICHAEL GOLDBERG: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So, Michael, how did we get here?

GOLDBERG: Well, first, it's worth noting that the water crisis in Jackson did not happen overnight. Parts of Jackson are without running water today because several days of flooding after heavy rainfall exacerbated longstanding problems in one of the city's two water treatment plants. But the city had already been under a boil-water notice for a month because the Department of Health collected cloudy water samples that indicated consumption of the city's running water could cause health problems. So Jackson's water system has a troubled history. But this crisis was really kicked into high gear as the floodwaters rose higher and higher and a water treatment plant stopped producing water for almost a hundred and eighty thousand dependent citizens. Pumps are broken, and, as a result, the plant is not producing an adequate level of water pressure.

FADEL: So how are the city and state responding?

GOLDBERG: Well, after declaring a state of emergency himself, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves requested Tuesday that the White House approve a federal emergency declaration, which, of course, would open the state up to federal assistance to supplement the state's response efforts. And of course, Tuesday night, President Biden did just that and approved the request. And that would authorize the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to really surge equipment and resources to the region. It's also worth noting that the mayor of Jackson is also raising the alarm about the financial lift that this crisis will demand, estimating that will cost at least 1 billion to fix the water system.

FADEL: I mean, drinking water - so key for people's lives. What are you hearing from people in Jackson about how they're coping?

GOLDBERG: You know, I was out speaking to Jackson residents all day yesterday, and most responded to the situation with either palpable frustration or a sense of subdued resignation, as this isn't the first time the city has been without clean running water. Many local business owners, though, really seem to have reached their wit's end. One restaurant owner told me that water problems are making it impossible for him to do business in Jackson. He and his wife report spending $300 per day for ice and bottled water. You know, there's the added cost each week for families of having to stock up on bottled water. Individuals who don't have a car have trouble transporting it. Public schools are closed.

But I did speak to one Jackson resident, a maintenance worker. And he was loading his truck with cases of bottled water Tuesday in the hot sun. But he hopes Jackson is on track to solve its water issues. And he said sometimes you've got to go through the hardship to get back to the goodship (ph). And I think that positivity is starting to emanate from some Jackson residents.

FADEL: Wow. Now, how far back does this problem go?

GOLDBERG: So Jackson does indeed have longstanding problems with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems happened again earlier this year on a similar scale. Some say it dates back to underinvestment, dating back to the 1970s. But Jackson is a majority African American city, and water systems in similar cities have not seen the same issues.

FADEL: AP reporter Michael Goldberg, thanks.

GOLDBERG: Thanks very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.