Bottled water still in high demand
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Even as "do not use" bans are lifted in various areas, bottled water remains a popular commodity.
The Charleston Fire Department has had a steady stream of folks picking up water at its three distribution sites, said Bob Sharp, deputy fire chief.
These sites include station one at 300 Morris St., station two at 808 Virginia St., and station eight at Copenhaver Drive at Orchard Manor on Charleston's West Side. The Virginia Street site ran out of water at 11 a.m. Wednesday but another truckload was on the way.
"It's consistent," Sharp said of area residents picking up water. "It's not as busy as the first few days. There is no comparison. It's definitely steady, but not rushed."
An estimated 1.2 million bottles of water have been distributed at the three sites, he said.
Two tractor-trailers full of bottled water from the T.D. Jakes' MegaCARE humanitarian ministry outreach program arrived Tuesday night for distribution through the city's fire stations that have been serving as distribution sites, as well as through Abundant Life Ministries Church, 1524 Washington St. E. Throughout the crisis, water has been trucked to the area by FEMA as well as religious groups.
Even in areas where the safe water alert has been issued, people are not anxious to take the plunge into drinking tap water.
On Jan. 9, as many as 7,500 gallons of a chemical known as crude MCHM leaked through a hole in a storage tank at Freedom Industries. A portion of that seeped through an old cement block wall and then made its way into the Elk River. As a result, an estimated 300,000 people served by West Virginia American Water across nine counties were left without clean tap water.
The water company began lifting the ban for a portion of customers on Monday with a slow flow of areas deemed safe since that time.
However, many area residents say they do not intend to drink the tap water any time soon.
How long water distribution sites will continue depends upon public demand as well as the determination of government officials, Sharp said.
Sharp counts himself among area residents who do not intend to drink the water or cook with it right away. He feels more comfortable using tap water for showering and shaving.
Once the crisis has ended, he hopes the public will remember to keep enough emergency supplies on hand to last 72 hours.
"We've preached that for years but then everyone goes about their business like they never expect another emergency," he said.
Meanwhile, at the Gestamp stamping plant in South Charleston, a steady line of traffic picked up cases of bottled water on Wednesday afternoon.
"It has slowed down a lot," said Everett Shelton, an employee of the sanitary board. "It's coming in bursts now. When we started on Friday, cars were backed up onto MacCorkle Avenue. A lot of people (Tuesday night) said their water still had a smell and they didn't think it was safe."
Squeak Peterson, chief of the Malden Volunteer Fire Department, said so much water had been distributed he was weary of keeping track.
"This is our seventh truckload," he said on Wednesday afternoon. "We had a truck Friday and one every day since."
He said the fire station and some folks in the area are in a safe zone but others are not.
Volunteer Darrell Dyer Jr., whose water is not yet safe, has been on site every day since Friday. He said so many people stopped Tuesday that they ran out of water and had people waiting before more supplies arrived Wednesday morning.
Those working at the distribution site have included volunteer firefighters as well as members of the community. Area businesses have loaned equipment such as forklifts and people from the area have brought food to the volunteers.
Peterson said once the ban is lifted for the entire area, people will remain cautious. They may feel comfortable washing clothes and bathing in the tap water, but it will likely be some time before they drink it, he said.