Spill affects some local areas
HUNTINGTON — The majority of Cabell County residents were unaffected by Thursday's chemical spill, but just 25 miles to the east and south hundreds of thousands were ordered not to use their water for fear of contamination.
The do-not-use advisory impacted West Virginia American Water customers in Culloden, as well as those living in another eight counties that included Hamlin, Winfield and areas south of Hurricane, W.Va., in Putnam and Lincoln counties. However, some residents of Putnam and Lincoln counties had water because they are served by other local water systems.
The problem stemmed from a Thursday morning chemical release into the Elk River, approximately a mile from West Virginia American Water's treatment and distribution plant in Charleston.
West Virginia American Water customers in Huntington, Barboursville and other areas of Cabell County were not affected as their water comes from the Ohio River. It is processed through a treatment plant along W.Va. 2 near Huntington and distributed east of Milton. The two distribution systems operate totally separately from each other, according to water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan and Cabell County emergency operations director Gordon Merry.
"The systems are completely separate," she said. Merry estimates the do-not-use advisory could impact as many as 5,000 people in Culloden alone, not to mention thousands of others to the south and east. The incident canceled schools and businesses across the nine-county region.
Lincoln County emergency planner Francis Holton said his office was focused on assisting customers in areas including Hamlin, New Hamlin and Yawkey. They fielded numerous calls Friday from residents concerned and confused as to the ban's impact, which did not affect areas of Harts, Ranger, Branchland, West Hamlin, Sod, Sumerco and Alum Creek.
"Everybody was calling everywhere, 'Are we affected? Are we affected?,'" he said.
Federal, state and local officials developed contingency plans throughout Friday to get potable water to those affected. The effort involved water shipments into the zone and trips by those affected into smaller districts not connected to the West Virginia American Water system.
It led Merry to a Walmart in Louisa, Ky., where Cabell County paid approximately $2,000 to purchase four pallets of bottled water. The emergency services director then, frustrated state officials couldn't provide a quicker supply, transported his shipment to the Culloden Volunteer Fire Department.
"I would really be in trouble if it was not for my local resources," Merry said. "I would be in major trouble."
City water departments in Milton and Hurricane, along with the Putnam Public Service District in Scott Depot, W.Va., and others in Lincoln County focused on minimizing confusion and providing its water free to those in need.
Milton Mayor Tom Canterbury, whose city produces its own supply, said people arrived from as far away as Elkview, W.Va. They carried away trucks with 300, 425 and 500 gallons of water.
Hurricane Mayor Scott Edwards and Putnam PSD spokesman Scott Jones shared similar stories. They also spoke of their residents being confused as to if West Virginia American Water's advisory meant their water was unclean. Their utilities use separate reservoirs to provide water to areas of Scott Depot, Teays Valley and Hurricane, generally located south and west of W.Va. 817 and north of U.S. 60.
"Each customer is a person," Jones said. "We have to make sure if they have a question, we're going to answer it. We're going to treat our neighbors like we'd want to be treated ... Some of these people aren't sure. They just know they the water bill every month."
Edwards said approximately 20 customers within his city receive water from West Virginia American. He said city officials had made home deliveries to those residents. He and Jordan also reassured Hurricane residents saying an interconnection with West Virginia American's system was closed for unrelated reasons days prior to the spill.
A similar interconnection with the company's Huntington distribution system, opened only in emergencies, remained closed prior to the spill, said Jordan and Merry. The utility spokeswoman cited a difference in elevation saying West Virginia American could not utilize the link to provide Huntington water to Culloden.
The emergency response also brought help from companies and other agencies, such as the Huntington Area Food Bank which provided pallets of bottled water late Thursday to a pickup location in Culloden.
The Pullman Plaza Hotel, located along 3rd Avenue in Huntington, offered generosity of its own by way of free showers to those affected. The motel manager told the Associated Press several rooms were set aside so people could shower, although the hotel asked those coming to bring their own towels and toiletries.
Water depots in Hurricane and Milton were scheduled to be open Saturday and Sunday pending a resolution. The distribution points were to be located at the Hurricane Walmart, Hurricane Volunteer Fire Department and a former water plant near the Milton Volunteer Fire Department.
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