GARY — When somebody infected with COVID-19 doesn’t have access to clean water, a city water system’s breakdown turns what is normally a serious inconvenience into a health crisis.
City of Gary residents have been going into creeks to get the water they need to flush toilets and going to city hall to get donated bottled water and water from West Virginia National Guard and City of Welch Public Works tankers ever since an pump breakdown stopped service earlier this week.
Inside city hall, City Treasurer Tracy Allison was keeping track of records. Long rows made of 1-gallon water jugs were standing nearby. Much of the water was contributed by businesses such as Goodson’s Grocery Store and Sam’s Club and civic organizations including sororities and fraternities. The bottled water has helped the 563 customers who are without service.
“Right now we’re currently in a health crisis due to the water outage,” Allison said.
Several businesses and entities providing health care services have been impacted by the situation.
“We have our McDowell (County) Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, we have the Tug River Clinic, and then we have the Wilco Health Clinic” she said. “So these places are affected with having no water. So like I said, we have a health crisis because of this pandemic with COVID-19 and not being able to have sanitation. So we do need the water so people can have the proper sanitation. With the outage and the lack of water, we have a health crisis right now.”
The water outage started Tuesday morning when a pump at a deep well called Grapevine, in nearby Wilco, had “seized up,” Allison said. The well water goes to the city’s plant for treatment. Gary customers felt the loss of water first, but tanks serving other customers started running dry as the week progressed.
“So as of Wednesday, nobody in our town had water,” she recalled.
City officials have been speaking with leaders on the state and national level including Gov. Jim Justice and local delegates about the ongoing water crisis.
“They are trying to help. They are reaching out to other places to see what they can get expedited for us,” Allison said.
A new water pump could cost “$25,000 on up,” she added. “We do have a four-pump, but we have that one that is out.”
All four pumps are needed to keep water flowing, she said.
About four Gary-area residents are isolating because of the coronavirus, said one person who once lived in the city.
“It is a community health crisis,” former Gary resident Dassa Giles of Bluefield said as more people arrived for water. “The CDC and medical professionals and scientists tell us to wash our hands and we have no clean source of water to do so. Regardless, that the pump is out, this is a community health crisis in Gary, W.Va. and…