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An Unknown Number Of People Remain Under Boil Orders In Mississippi

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's been two weeks since some residents of Jackson, Miss., have had running water. Pipes froze and broke after a winter storm last month. City officials say they're working to restore the system but can't say when that will happen. Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Kobee Vance has more.

KOBEE VANCE, BYLINE: Today several water trucks were scattered across Mississippi's capital city of Jackson.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FLOWING)

VANCE: The National Guard was helping residents fill canisters of non-potable water. People can use it to flush toilets but not much else. As he waited his turn, Wayne Johnson says his neighborhood has been without water since February 16. The back of his pickup truck is stuffed with containers, and he has dozens of milk jugs in his passenger seat to fill for his neighbor.

WAYNE JOHNSON: She's elderly. She can't handle jugs of water. So, you know, I'm catching water and got coolers and jugs and everything else. I'm filling the bathtubs up with water and everything else to flush and, you know, do what we can. You know, if you put a brick in your toilets, then that saves a half gallon of water every time you flush the toilet. And in these old houses - and they're all like that - that really helps.

VANCE: The water outages in Jackson began February 15 as a winter storm swept across the state. Some treatment plants couldn't operate in those freezing temperatures. Then the cold weather lingered for days. And because the plants were shut down so long, water pressure dropped. Some parts of Jackson lost water altogether. Public works director Charles Williams says the plants are now back online, but the water pressure needs to be at a consistent rate for it to reach the homes farthest from the treatment plants.

CHARLES WILLIAMS: We did not expect this to happen, but we're dealing with the aftermath of it. And we're also dealing with the science of how the water system was designed and whether - you know, we can't change that fact. But what we can do is put all of our efforts in trying to correct it and moving forward with the restoration process that we're working with now.

VANCE: Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba says these outages have only highlighted issues that have existed for decades - deferred maintenance, aging pipes and little money to take care of it all. He says the city needs state and federal funding to help replace 100-year-old pipes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: They have been described as peanut brittle. When our crews jump into homes in order to repair them, sometimes they'll repair one break, stay for a little while and see another break happen mere yards away from the one that they just repaired. And so we need help right now in this moment, but we need long-term support to deal with this issue that has gone without being addressed sufficiently for decades.

VANCE: There's been little help from the state or federal government to help restore the city's water supply. When asked about it last week, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves criticized the city for poor upkeep of the water infrastructure. Reeves did deploy the National Guard to help distribute water. Eva Burkhalter and her daughter Suneva were at one of those sites today, picking up bottled water and filling several canisters so they can flush their toilets.

EVA BURKHALTER: You know, having a baby and having kids at home with no water, it's just - it just feels - it's inhumane, you know, especially when we're paying for it. It's not like we're lazy or anything like that. We're paying for it. And I just feel like it's inhumane that we really have to go through it. It's unsanitary.

SUNEVA BURKHALTER: Yeah.

E BURKHALTER: It's just - it's not good.

VANCE: Until the water is restored, residents are asked to remain patient, but residents say their patience is growing thin.

For NPR News, I'm Kobee Vance in Jackson, Miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMATIK'S "MUY TRANQUILO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.