Jail protected inmates during water crisis
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Regional jail officials were able to keep inmates safe during the do-not-use water order in January, thanks to quick action — and a little bit of help from Mother Nature.
South Central Regional Jail was the only jail or prison that was affected by the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical leak, said Lawrence Messina, communications director for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
Officials stockpiled water at the jail earlier in the week in anticipation of potential pipe bursts from a polar vortex that pushed temperatures in Charleston as low as three degrees below zero on Jan 6. The water wasn't needed then, but was vital once the chemical leak occurred.
"We kept tabs on the jail and they had water for consumption and bathing throughout the do-not-use period," Messina said. "There was water for inmates for each meal and water brought in for bathing, so they had a plentiful supply of bottled water throughout that time period."
South Central provided about 27,000 bottles of drinking water to inmates during the state of emergency, according to data provided by Joe DeLong, West Virginia Regional Jail Authority executive director.
Additionally, DeLong said the regional jail authority sent 23,000 bottles to other agencies that were in need during the water emergency.
DeLong said upon learning of the leak, water was cut off to the jail so inmates could not drink or come into contact with tainted water.
"When the do-not-use order was in place, there was essentially no access to the contaminated water," DeLong said. "All the water they had was bottled water or water brought in from water buffaloes."
DeLong said water buffaloes were brought in for cooking purposes, and water from the buffaloes was heated to allow the inmates to take sponge baths. He estimated inmates received about eight bottles of water a day, and pregnant inmates were given bottled water for drinking even after the order was lifted.
Water was turned on for various sections of the jail as needed for sanitation purposes, DeLong said.
Messina said the governor's office received one complaint from an inmate about the handling of the water crisis. He said the complaint was investigated and found to be unfounded.
"We checked it out and found out there was no grounds for the complaint," Messina said.
DeLong said the jail went through a "very extensive" flushing process that lasted "two or three days" before inmates were allowed to use tap water again.
"They had no access at all to the tap water until the do-not-use order was lifted," DeLong said.
Messina said that paper trays were brought in during the water ban, and DeLong said the prison's hand sanitizer supplier donated extra during the crisis. He wasn't aware of any instances of jailed individuals experiencing MCHM exposure symptoms.