Southern cities hit hard by storms face new crisis: No water

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Volunteers load water for people at a San Antonio Food Bank drive-through food distribution site held at Rackspace Technology, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas – Southern cities slammed by winter storms that left millions without power for days have traded one crisis for another: Busted water pipes ruptured by record-low temperatures created shortages of clean drinking water, shut down the Memphis airport on Friday and left hospitals struggling to maintain sanitary conditions.

In Texas, 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation’s second-largest state — were under orders to boil tap water before drinking it because low water pressure could have allowed bacteria to seep into the system. A man died at an Abilene health care facility when a lack of water pressure made medical treatment impossible.

About 260,000 homes and businesses in the Tennessee county that includes Memphis were told to boil water because of water main ruptures and pumping station problems. Restaurants that can't do so or don't have bottled water were ordered to close. And water pressure problems prompted Memphis International Airport to cancel all incoming and outgoing Friday flights.

In Jackson, Mississippi, most of the city of about 161,000 had no running water. Crews pumped water to refill city tanks but faced a shortage of chemicals for treatment because icy roads made it difficult for distributors to deliver them, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said.

He said the city's water mains are more than 100 years old and not built to handle the freezing weather that hit the city as multiple storms dumped record amounts of snow across the South.

“We are dealing with an extreme challenge with getting more water through our distribution system,” said Lumumba.

The city was providing water for flushing toilets and drinking, but residents had to pick it up, leaving the elderly and those living on icy roads vulnerable.

Lisa Thomas said her driveway on a hill in Jackson was a sheet of ice. Her husband, who is on a defibrillator and heart monitor, has only enough heart medication to get him through Sunday because she hasn’t been able to go to the pharmacy.