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US Flint needs water, volunteers as coronavirus worsens longstanding health crisis

18:35  26 march  2020
18:35  26 march  2020 Source:   freep.com

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In Flint, where lead-contaminated water woes have afflicted the community for years, the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the daily hardship and making it even more difficult for organizations to help.

a man standing next to a car: Volunteer Eric Bonner (left) of Flint loads cases of water into a car with the help of Edmund Merriwether of Flint during a water distribution for Flint residents through the United Way of Genesee County at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint on March 19, 2020. © Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press Volunteer Eric Bonner (left) of Flint loads cases of water into a car with the help of Edmund Merriwether of Flint during a water distribution for Flint residents through the United Way of Genesee County at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint on March 19, 2020.

Volunteers aren't showing up to hand out water and food for fear of catching the virus — and, some residents say, they are now having difficulty buying what they need because the supermarket shelves are bare as a result of panicked shoppers.

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"The stores don't have it," Sandra Jones, the executive director of R.L. Jones Community Outreach Center in Flint, said of bottled water. "We have people who called and promised to volunteer, but because of the pandemic every single one of them backed out."

a person in a yellow car parked in a parking lot: R.L. Jones Community Outreach Center Director Latrece Davis directs a line of cars waiting to enter into a water distribution for Flint residents through the United Way of Genesee County at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint on March 19, 2020. © Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press R.L. Jones Community Outreach Center Director Latrece Davis directs a line of cars waiting to enter into a water distribution for Flint residents through the United Way of Genesee County at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint on March 19, 2020. "It's an increase because they're thinking that everything is about to stop with this virus. By us not having waters in the stores everybody's coming to the free water giveaway," Jones said.

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The public health crisis in Flint related to elevated lead levels in the water has generated national attention. The School of Public Health is working with To focus on public health in the community, in a partnership context. We have longstanding partnerships with community organizations, agencies

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Every Thursday, she said, hundreds of residents line up at the center at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. They arrive as early as 4 a.m., where the bottle water distribution starts at 10 a.m.

The residents, Jones added, come in cars with folks from two, three and four families.

"We could certainly use help, and we could use letting people know we are not yet out of this crisis," she said. "People are agitated. They are scared."

At 70, Flint resident Leonard Edwards is drinking only bottled water and making sure that his 97-year-old father, William, who also lives in Flint, has some on hand, too. 

"I don't trust the water," he said. "It's still messing with my skin — and everything else. It dries my skin out. I shower, but we don't drink it."

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He used to get water at the center. But now, he said, the lines are too long. 

a person in a cage: Leonard Edwards, 70, of Flint sits on the front porch near his father Will Edwards, 97, at his dad's home in Flint's north side on March 20, 2020. Leonard, who recently had vertebrae surgery and has a cough, doesn't go into his father's home to avoid him catching anything from him due to his age. His father has a bad knee and an irregular heartbeat. © Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press Leonard Edwards, 70, of Flint sits on the front porch near his father Will Edwards, 97, at his dad's home in Flint's north side on March 20, 2020. Leonard, who recently had vertebrae surgery and has a cough, doesn't go into his father's home to avoid him catching anything from him due to his age. His father has a bad knee and an irregular heartbeat."It's one thing after another," Leonard said about having recently dealt with the Flint Water Crisis to now worrying about COVID-19. "I got to keep him on bottled water. I don't trust the water. I didn't trust it and I ain't going to trust it. I can't wait in line for hours to get it. By the time I get up there they're out," he said, about going to water distribution sites for his father to avoid going around town looking water that might be low in stock at stores.

"I don't even go anymore," he added. "Because every time I get up there in line they done ran out. I don't want to go, burn up my gas and waste my time and don't get nothing."

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Jones said the church also is distributing food, which is a growing concern, now that there is no school and children aren't getting lunch and tens of thousands of people are finding themselves out of work and without a paycheck.

The water crisis in Flint dates to 2014, when the financially challenged city tried to save money by changing its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water from the Flint River. 

As a result, the water became contaminated because it didn't have enough corrosion inhibitors, and lead form the old pipes began to leach into the water supply exposing residents to higher lead levels.

Yet for months, officials denied anything was wrong.

Later, then-president Barack Obama declared the community was in a federal state of emergency and the city switched back to Detroit water in 2015. But the damage had been done, and some residents still rely on bottled water.

About 25,000 people have sued the city and water regulators, most of whom were responsible for making sure federal clean water laws were followed. The lawsuit argues the officials failed to protect residents from a foreseeable risk.

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Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ began distributing water in 2016.

Earlier this month, the Great Lakes Water Authority announced it would transfer more than $1.6 million to Flint and Detroit to help customers pay past-due water bills and for education in water conservation.

The authority said Flint would get more than $470,000.

Eligible customers would receive a $25 monthly credit toward current water bills with any arrears suspended for one to two years. They also would be eligible for a bill credit of up to $700 toward past-due amounts.

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Edwards said he's eager to learn with happens with the lawsuit against water regulators. His attorney recently told him that the U.S. Supreme Court denied hearing the case, so it is moving forward in a lower court.But, he said, he's not going to worry about the situation.

"I got God on my side," Edwards said. "He'll protect me and the household. But, I'm going to be cautious, because I know what the virus can do."

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or fwitsil@freepress.com.

How to help

To help the R.L. Jones Community Outreach Center, contact Sandra Jones at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, 6702 Dort Hwy, in Flint, (810) 787-3960.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Flint needs water, volunteers as coronavirus worsens longstanding health crisis

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