Many West Virginians still without tap water

January 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
An estimated 300,000 West Virginians still have little or no tap water after a major chemical spill in the capital city of Charleston. State officials say up to 7,500 gallons of an industrial chemical spilled into the drinking water supply on December 9. Ashton Marra of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Joining us now from Charleston via Skype is Ashton Marra. She is the statehouse reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. So, you have been living through this for the past two days. What has it been like? 

ASHTON MARRA: We have been living through this. I will say that this morning was the first time that I got the opportunity to take a shower since Thursday morning. Had to drive about a half an hour to find a hotel that luckily was on a public service district that is a lot smaller, and I think that is the experience that a lot of people are having – having to drive twenty, thirty, forty minutes to find another water system. 

HARI SREENIVASAN: How are people in the area dealing with this? Are tempers rising? 

ASHTON MARRA: I think we are starting to see them slowly, collectively rise. I experienced a lot of frustration just at the hotel that I was at this morning that was offering these free showers to people. Obviously, I think people are grateful for what these businesses are trying to donate. But at the same time you can’t drink the water, you can’t bathe, do dishes, do laundry. I think all of that is starting to build up and really be frustrating for the people in the area. 

HARI SREENIVASAN: And what has happened to all the businesses in the area? We were talking about hotels and restaurants that cannot stay open, because people can’t wash their hands, right? 

ASHTON MARRA: At this point the public has – I’m sorry the county health department in the nine effected counties have ordered all businesses and restaurants to close. Now, beginning yesterday, they started taking applications for you to be able to open during this time, but you have to show that you are using a secondary water source. So, this morning, here in the capital city of Charleston, we have about four restaurants that have been able to open so far using bottled water, paper plates, hand sanitizers in the restrooms, but basically at this point those are the only contingency plans. The public health department is still taking those in and reviewing the applications and doing on-site reviews, where anybody can reopen. Obviously those are long processes to get everybody to be able to open their businesses again. 

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Ashton Marra from West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much for your time. 

ASHTON MARRA: Thank you.