Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Adrian Wright’s small BBQ joint on the west side of Charleston, West Virginia remained closed Thursday as he awaited the all clear to re-open. The only sound in his place was the TV in the background where CNN reported on the Chris Christie scandal.
Wright asked a question we heard more than once Thursday, one week after the Freedom Industrial chemical spill here was announced to the public. “Why is the rest of the country fixated on a New Jersey traffic jam while we go without clean water? We’ve been closed five days, I don’t know how I’ll get past this. The bills still come.”
Pastor Dunn of the Charleston First Baptist Church normally sees more than 12,000 people each weekend, this past week, he saw 4,000.
“This is gonna hurt. Kids still aren’t in school, and in my district the breakfast and lunch they get Monday through Friday are sometimes the only meals they’re guaranteed all week.”
Pastor Dunn says his secretary came in three days before the chemical spill was announced to the public, saying she smelled a black licorice odor. Of course, Thursday Freedom Industries announced they’d allowed about 7,500 gallons of the toxic chemical MCHM into the Elk River just upstream from the local water processing plant.
Many people here live paycheck to paycheck and with restaurants and other places of employment shut down until the crisis abates, some people aren’t bringing home any money.
One woman taking care of three small grandchildren in a hollow outside of town had run out of water. She’d bought all she could, but as the weekend approached and temperatures promise to drop, she had no money left for kerosene to heat her home. Her husband passed away in November and his old Dodge Caravan wasn’t as reliable as it had been when he was around.
We joined a local cab driver who is running for elected office who brought her water and gave her some money for fuel. “It’s just so embarrassing,” she said, declining to give her name.
Not a single person we talked to trusted their water and some people had more reason than others. Musician Chris Tanzey and his girlfriend Katherine Saul live in an apartment complex on a hill outside Charleston. Katherine is pregnant with twins and had been using the water before she heard the warnings. “I was sick all day Friday, puking,” she said.
Tanzey flushed his water as instructed by the water company. “The cold water was fine, he said. “But when I ran the hot water and the steam started, it smelled like a Twizzler factory in there.”
We were with a scientist to collect tap water samples.
“I had the worst headache of my entire life,” Tanzey said. He pointed to Katherine, “She works at Olive Garden and the dish machine still smells like licorice,” she nodded as he continued.
“I can’t believe they actually contaminated public drinking water,” Tanzey sighed. “I never thought it would happen and I won’t trust the water again for a very long time.” At the time of this writing, Friday morning, a public advisory advising pregnant women to drink only bottled water has been put in place.
People here are taking the situation one day at a time. They live in a place called “Chemical Valley.” This isn’t the worst scare the residents here have ever had, and they know it won’t be the last.
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