Forty-plus degrees feels good, but the thaw hasn’t ended the problems faced by cities across the South still reeling from a frozen week.
Water mains are still breaking regularly as temperatures rise, causing the water pressure to disappear. Maintenance crews are bracing for ice-melt flooding.
Airlines canceled flights. Hospitals struggled to stay sanitary. Schools without safe water told teachers not to come. Water treatment plants couldn’t receive chemicals because the roads were too icy for the trucks to get through.
Sub-freezing temperatures beginning Feb. 15 wreaked havoc on water supplies, leaving some southerners without water for the entire week. And many of those people are still waiting. It is no longer freezing, but the problems have not gone away.
Boil advisories, in which residents were asked to heat tap water (if they had any) to kill bacteria, were in effect from in select areas from Arkansas to the eastern tip of Tennessee to the gulf shores of Louisiana. Tap water has become unreliable and the inability to flush toilets in some areas has caused people to line up for donations of water.
In Jackson, Mississippi, last week, cars waited to fill up 15-gallon buckets in a city give-away.
“I owe you honesty. I owe you truth,” Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “We do not have a definitive timeline on water restoration.”
In Jackson, 13 water breaks have been reported across the city so far and more are expected as the thaw continues. In 2018, the city suffered through more than 200 water main breaks in similar freezing conditions.
Residents in three of Louisiana’s largest 10 cities — Alexandria, Lake Charles and Shreveport — have been without running water or under boil orders for a week with nearly a quarter of the state’s 4.6 million population without clean water from the tap.
State Rep. Thomas Pressley, R-Shreveport, said on Twitter he and other officials visited the low-income housing complex Canaan Tower Apartments, where residents have been without water.
“What is happening there should never happen in a first world country,” Pressley tweeted, saying he and others are working to deliver resources to the residents. “Disturbing is an understatement.”
Those boil advisories will be in effect until at least Friday.
In Hinds County, Mississippi, officials are monitoring the rise of 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 for flooding. He advised residents to be prepared and keep an eye out for messages from the department on its website and social media.
Pump station problems in Tennessee forced water to be shut off for more than 260,000 homes.
Water wasn’t the only concern. Electricity has been out in some regions leaving millions of residents from Minnesota to Texas without heat.
As the horrific conditions in Texas have drawn national attention, the problems in the South have left some officials pleading for help.
In all, the Louisiana Department of Health on Sunday reported 44 water systems with outages impacting more than 80,000 customers and 303 systems with boil advisories affecting more than 1 million customers.
“Louisiana has been treated like the stepchild of the nation during this disaster, and Shreveport has been treated like the stepchild of Louisiana,” Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins said. “It’s frustrating.”
In Memphis, Shelby County Schools teachers were delayed from returning to classrooms for at least Monday and Tuesday this week. The water wasn’t 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 police themselves and close.
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 that state and will be until further notice,” said MLGW President and CEO J.T. Young.
Utility officials had originally asked Memphians to conserve water until noon on Monday. On Sunday, they said they were extending that request indefinitely.
The search is on in Memphis for broken water mains, which are usually 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 water pressure in the are of a fire so the Memphis Fire Department could do its work.
There is a bit of optimism in Memphis.
Young said the MLGW was turning the corner in the battle to gain control of the many factors contributing to low pressure within the water system.
“We are continually moving in the right direction. We see our pumping stations getting better every day, we’re still a little in the red, but we’re getting better,” Young said.
Laura Testino, Corinne S Kennedy,Micaela Watts, Greg Hilburn and Justin Vicory contributed to this report