Under unrelenting heat, this small Arkansas town has had no running water for 3 weeks


Helena-West Helena, a small town in east central Arkansas, will hit 98 degrees next week after several days of temperatures stretching into the 90s. And that’s on top of three weeks without clean water.

Seventy miles south of Memphis, the 9,000 residents in a city that Mark Twain once called “one of the prettiest locations on the Mississippi” have been under a boiling water alert since late June.

Now, the situation is beyond frustrating, with residents and city officials exasperated that help has not arrived despite the dire circumstances, as they are forced to use bottled water in whatever way they can for bathing, cooking and sustaining themselves. hydrated.

Helena-West Helena’s problems stem from an aging infrastructure, with pipes at least 60 years old bursting in various parts of the city, according to Mayor Christopher Franklin.

The problems came to a head on June 25, when a main water main burst and the operating system of the city’s computer that runs the water plant crashed automatically. That left the community, which is 75% black, without water for 20 hours in the middle of a high temperature of 97 degrees.

Helena-West Helena.google maps

The city issued a boil water advisory when the heat reached a high of 100 degrees by June 30. Now, in mid-July, that alert remains in effect as leaks pop up in various parts of the compromised infrastructure.

City officials who spoke to NBC News estimate the outdated plumbing system would cost between $1 million and $10 million to repair. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has given Helena-West Helena a $100,000 loan to help fix leaks in its main water system, which is not enough to fix the problem, Franklin and her chief of staff James Valley said. The water came back on, but the pressure was low. And more leaks have developed throughout the water system.

Franklin, a native of Helena-West Helena who became mayor in January, said he has been consumed by the acquisition of aid and has been «reluctant» to share his thoughts on the ongoing crisis.

But he told NBC News that his calls for more help from state and federal authorities have had little effect. He said he can’t help but believe the lack of support is because the community is majority black.

The Arkansas National Guard was called in by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to provide drinking water to the residents of Helena-West Helena.
The Arkansas National Guard was called in by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders to provide drinking water to the residents of Helena-West Helena.Arkansas National Guard

“In the United States, where people have a right to good quality drinking water, the federal government should provide help to provide it,” Franklin said. “Instead, there is no sense of urgency for us.

“I mean, why would it be? we are black There is no urgency until they want our vote. And that is what is happening here. What else is left for us to think about?

Xenovia Martin-Smith, a 31-year-old resident of Helena-West Helena, called the situation «ridiculous.»

“You see how you like it if you can’t cook with your home water, shower or drink it,” Martin-Smith said. “And worst of all, because we’re black, we can’t get excited about solving the problem any time soon. Shoot, it’s been three weeks already.

Valley, who previously served as the city’s mayor and chief executive, said the Huckabee Sanders loan was helpful, but not enough.

“The state can help us by forgiving that loan as a grant, but certainly $100,000 is just a drop in the bucket for the level of concerns we have with this water system,” Valley said. «We have to work a lot. Some of the problems have to do with neglect of the infrastructure over the years. It’s just been a systemic failure.»

Huckabee Sanders’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Franklin called the two Arkansas senators, Tom Cotton and John Boozman, both Republicans, like Huckabee Sanders, and «didn’t get a good response,» he said.

Cotton sent a helper to Helena-West Helena last week; Boozman is scheduled to ship one next week, Franklin said.

The Arkansas National Guard responds to the water crisis in Helena-West Helena.
The Arkansas National Guard provides drinking water to the residents of Helena-West Helena.Arkansas National Guard

“That is not helping us. We need resources. I am not a begging person and should not have to beg for my people to have clean running water. But that’s what we’re doing. We are doing everything we can, but we need outside help to solve the problems.»

Cotton and Boozman did not respond to a request for comment.

Franklin praised the Arkansas National Guard, the Red Cross, Wal-Mart and Dollar General for their efforts to provide support and bottled water. But if those entities are the only sources of aid, your city is in for a long, hot summer. Which leads Franklin and Valley to wonder why this crisis has dragged on with minimal substantive response.

“I’ve been black my whole life, so none of this surprises me: the lack of response or the attempt to blame someone else instead of fixing the problem,” Valley said. “We know that when people want to move quickly, when they want to move money quickly, when they want to send aid quickly, they can do it. The government is empowered to do whatever it chooses to do. In this case, as in Flint, Michigan, Jackson, Mississippi and many other places that don’t make the news, help has been a long time coming.»

Flint’s water problems took years before their crisis was resolved. Residents received a boil water warning in 2014 and many suffered contamination-related illnesses. But the boil water alert in Flint was not rescinded until earlier this year, nine years after the crisis began. Even as recently as this weekthe city issued a one-day boil water advisory.

In seven months as mayor, Franklin, 40, has demolished 90 abandoned homes in an effort to remove eyesores and ultimately draw people back to a city that has had a dramatic fall in population in the last 20 years. “It’s the perfect opportunity to go under those houses and replace the water lines,” she said.

Perhaps most troubling to Franklin has been the racism he has experienced since beating a white starter last year. He said he received death threats, trespassed on his property and was attacked on social media by people who didn’t want to see another black man as mayor.

«It’s a lot,» he said. “But I’ve lived here all my life, and I’m committed to seeing the people of this community get the basic right they should have: clean water. I’m not discussing a football game. I’m discussing the quality of life for black people and all the people in this inner city.»

You may also like...