Students return to campus amid water crisis in Jackson

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JACKSON, Miss – As the water crisis lingers, students in the Mississippi capital were able to return to class Tuesday for the first time in a week, with reassurances the toilets and sinks in their buildings would finally work.

Jackson remained under a boil-water recommendation, but the drop in water pressure that had nearly collapsed the system appeared to be resolved, officials said.

Sherwin Johnson, a spokesman for Jackson Public Schools, confirmed in a statement to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the schools reopened after a drop in water pressure forced a switch to virtual classes.

In a statement posted to Twitter Monday, the school district said it had “checked the water pressure at every school” and found “almost all are eligible” to allow students and staff to return. Air conditioning systems at several schools depend on the water system to function effectively. The district said it anticipates delays in building cooling as temperatures hit the mid-80s on Tuesday.

“We continue to monitor and have portable fans and air conditioning in place to bring down temperatures in warm or hot areas.

Torrential rain and Pearl River flooding in late August exacerbated problems at one of Jackson’s two sewage treatment plants, causing a city-wide pressure drop. The school district said Forest Hill High School in South Jackson still has no water pressure. Johnson said students visiting Forest Hill were transported to alternative locations on Tuesday.

In a news briefing on Tuesday, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the water storage facility built over the weekend had declined somewhat over the past 24 hours.

“The safety net that has been put up has been waning and waning,” Lumumba said. “That’s why we pray that everything stays consistent.”

If there is a challenge in plant operations on Tuesday, it will likely impact customers, the mayor said.

In a press conference on Monday, Gov. Tates Reeves said water distribution in schools would be reduced in preparation for students returning to campus.

“We are moving these resources to our other water distribution megasites,” Reeves said. “Demand for these locations has dropped somewhat, but we’ve still launched about 5 million bottles of water in the past few days.”

Shortly after water stopped flowing through the pipes of many homes across Jackson, officers rolled a water distribution tank truck into the Forest Hill parking lot. Santiago Matthews, a high school maintenance worker, had a dumpster filled to the brim with water last week to fill toilets for staff working in them. He lugged the dumpster up a short incline to the high school, water slopping over the sides.

Reeves said Monday that the city has “no low-level water tanks.” He also said repairs that lead to clean water don’t eliminate every risk.

“There could be more bad days in the future,” Reeves said.

Michael Goldberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that brings journalists into local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mikergoldberg.

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