West Virginia Tap Water Ban Awaits A Good Flush
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Faucets in parts of West Virginia are running drinkable water again. This after a chemical spill leaked into the Elk River and tainted the local water supply. After a five-day ban on tap water in and around Charleston, Governor Earl Tomblin today announced the results of days of testing.
GOVERNOR EARL TOMBLIN: The numbers we have today look good and we're finally at a point where the do not use order has been lifted in certain areas.
BLOCK: Still, officials say, the process of flushing the last of the chemical out of local pipes will take some time. And many of the hundreds of thousands of residents affected are still living under the ban. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: After almost five days of avoiding tap water for everything except flushing toilets, Sarah Travis finally received the instructions she'd been waiting for.
SARAH TRAVIS: It's pretty simple. Turn on all the hot taps. Run them for 15 minutes, turn them off.
WANG: She's reviewing a tip sheet from the West Virginia American Water Company with her husband Greg in their Charleston home, blocks away from the state capitol.
GREG TRAVIS: OK. So when do you want to start?
TRAVIS: OK. Sergei?
SERGEI TRAVIS: Yeah.
TRAVIS: Go all the way to the top floor. Go up to the attic, left faucet, turn the attic on.
WANG: Schools in the area have been closed, so Sergei and Daniel, Greg and Sarah's sons, are also home. They zoom up and down the stairs as the flushing begins at the Travis'.
TRAVIS: And I will now do the kitchen sink and let it run.
WANG: Cooking and cleaning had been unusual challenges for Greg Travis and his family these past few days. They've been relying on bottled water and rain water collected out in their backyard. Are you originally West Virginian?
TRAVIS: No. I'm originally from Maryland. And I don't think if this happened in Maryland that people would be quite as patient.
WANG: Sarah Travis says, for the most part, the tap water ban has been more of an inconvenience than a source of outrage for her and her neighbors.
TRAVIS: We're able to look and say, OK, it's not as bad as, you know, it was before. So I think it's - that's just the West Virginian people.
WANG: Earlier this morning, forklifts piled crates of water bottles outside of a stamping plant in nearby South Charleston, West Virginia.
CATHY FARLEY: Hi. Do you still have water in the (unintelligible) to fill a container?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yes, ma'am. Pull right over and we'll fill you up.
WANG: Stopping by water distributions sites like these have been part of the morning routine for local residents like Cathy Farley of Charleston.
FARLEY: I've been to work. It's full of dirty dishes and we need coffee.
WANG: So you're on a coffee run.
FARLEY: Kind of.
OTHO WHITING: This water situation is really a pain. You can't do nothing.
WANG: Otho Whiting of South Charleston stopped by with empty gallon jugs to fill up. It's not the first time he's lived without drinkable running water.
WHITING: I was raised in the country, on a farm. We drawn our water out of a well and, you know, used it that way. And this is more or less pretty close to that way.
WANG: This way of getting water has had a toll on West Virginians not just in households.
ROBBIE BAKER: It's not business as usual. It's business as unusual as it's ever been since I've lived here. I grew up here.
WANG: Robbie Baker works at Sam's Uptown Cafe in downton Charleston, where a handful of restaurants and other businesses with access to potable water were allowed to open earlier this weekend. Baker says his boss at the cafe has been making regular trips for seemingly endless cases of bottled water.
BAKER: So it's a lot of water bottles. It's a lot of water. Hopefully, everybody is recycling. I don't think that's the first priority right now, though.
WANG: For officials, the priority is for families in the area to start hearing this, a running faucet flushing out the contaminated tap water, like in Sarah Travis' home. Is it a relief to hear that sound now?
TRAVIS: Yeah. It's a big relief. It'll be a relief to hear the shower. That's what I'm waiting for, is the shower.
WANG: And so are hundreds of thousands of other West Virginians. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, Charleston, West Virginia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.