Storms blamed for 3 deaths, water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

The US storm deaths include a 14-year-old girl electrocuted in Michigan and an 11-year-old boy swept into a drain in Arkansas.

Mississippi flooding
There are two water-treatment plants, with the larger one near a reservoir that provides most of the water supply, in Jackson, Mississippi, the United States [Rogelio V Solis/AP]

Severe storms that brought damaging winds, heavy rains and flash flooding to parts of the Midwest and the South in the United States were blamed for the deaths of three people, while a water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi exacerbated by recent flooding is causing major low-water pressure problems.

Hundreds of thousands of residents in Michigan were without electricity on Tuesday morning after powerful storms toppled trees and downed thousands of power lines in the state a day earlier, including a power line that electrocuted a 14-year-old girl.

More than 375,000 customers remained without power, utility companies said on Tuesday as dozens of schools across southeastern Michigan, including nearly two dozen in Detroit alone, cancelled classes because of the outages, officials and The Detroit News said.

The storms in the Midwest and South – and the flooding in Mississippi – come amid rising concerns in the US and around the world over the impact of severe weather that scientists blame on climate change.

The current crisis follows several episodes of disruption to Jackson’s water supply in recent years. In February, a pair of winter storms caused most residents of the city to briefly lose running water [Reuters]

In the Michigan city of Monroe, a 14-year-old girl was electrocuted on Monday in the backyard of her home after coming into contact with an electrical line that was knocked down by a thunderstorm, the public safety department said in a Facebook post.

In Arkansas, an 11-year-old boy died after he was swept into a storm drain during heavy rainfall on Monday, authorities said.

A 47-year-old woman who tried to help the child was also pulled from the drain and taken to a hospital for treatment, according to police in Bentonville, Arkansas. Slow-moving thunderstorms brought heavy rainfall to the area Monday and caused localised flash flooding, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported.

“Those heavy rains, when they fell, a lot of them fell really quickly and in a short time,” said meteorologist Brad McGavock, who is based in the NWS’s Tulsa, Oklahoma office, which covers parts of Arkansas. “Water management through those storm drains can really lead to a big volume of water through those culverts.”

In Toledo, Ohio, a woman was killed Monday night when a tree fell on her behind her home just as a strong storm moved through the area, the city’s fire department said.

Late on Monday, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency after excessive rainfall worsened problems in Jackson, a city with already troubled water-treatment plants. The problems are causing low water pressure through much of the city of 180,000 people located in central Mississippi.

The low pressure raised concerns about firefighting and about residents’ ability to take showers or flush toilets, as even people who do have water are boiling it to wash dishes. Jackson, a majority Black city, will be without safe water for drinking, or even for brushing teeth for “an unknown period of time”, Reeves said, causing alarm and calls for a federal response.

Mississippi’s National Guard was activated on Tuesday to help distribute water.

The flooding contributed to the treatment plant’s failure, officials said, although Reeves said he had learned last week that the breakdown was only a matter of time, given years of poor maintenance. The loss of water pressure “has created a condition of disaster and extreme peril to the safety of persons and property”, a statement issued on Tuesday by the governor’s office read.

The problems at the water treatment plant came after the city appeared to largely avoid widespread flooding from a Pearl River swollen by days of heavy rain.

One home was flooded Monday, but Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the water did not rise as high as expected. Earlier projections showed about 100 to 150 buildings in the Jackson area faced the possibility of flooding.

Jackson has two water-treatment plants, and the larger one is near a reservoir that provides most of the city’s water supply. The reservoir also has a role in flood control.

Jackson has had long-standing problems with its water system. A cold snap in 2021 left a significant number of people without running water after pipes froze. Similar problems happened again early this year, on a smaller scale.

Even before the flooding Monday caused low-water pressure problems, city residents were already being advised to boil the water coming out of their pipes before using it to wash dishes or to do other household chores – guidelines they have been following since July. Tests found a cloudy quality to the water that could lead to health problems.

Mississippi flooding
A road flooded near the Pearl River following water discharges from Barnett Reservoir over the weekend, in Ridgeland, Mississippi [Reuters]

Legislative leaders reacted with alarm to Jackson’s latest water system problems.

“We have grave concerns for citizens’ health and safety,” Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann said in a statement Monday, suggesting the state take a role in trying to solve the issue.

Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives Philip Gunn said he has been contacted by hospitals, businesses and schools “pleading that something be done to address the water crisis in Jackson”.

As the Pearl River started to rise last week, some Jackson residents started moving furniture and appliances out of their homes, and others stocked up on sandbags. Two years ago, torrential rain caused the river to crest at 11.2 metres (36.7 feet) the third highest level on record for the city and the highest since 1983. Jackson homes in the hardest-hit neighbourhoods were filled with dirty, snake-infested floodwaters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies