Kanawha County EMT Jeff Broyles leaves a case of water with Jimmy Betzing, 58, right, at his Church Drive home in Rand. Jerry Dively, Betzing's friend, brought him water, but the additional help from the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority was a big help, both men said.
Paramedic John Johnson carries a case of water into the Starling Drive home of Joann Chapouris and Wilda Quinn Sunday afternoon. Chapouris told the medics that she'd made an emergency kit with water and a generator but worried that the small amount of water she had wouldn't be enough to last them through the water ban.
Johnson talks to Antoenina Jackson Sunday afternoon in her Rand apartment about her medication while delivering a case of water. Jackson hadn't had any water since the water ban took effect Thursday evening and hadn't taken her medication since then.
Antoenina Jackson smiled brightly when Kanawha County medics arrived at her Rand apartment with a case of bottled water.Red Cross volunteers had just delivered cases of water, but she would take all the precious liquid she could get."Today was my first drink of water," Jackson said as she maneuvered her motorized wheelchair out of her apartment.She hadn't had any water to drink, bathe, cook with or wash with since Thursday when the water ban was enacted.A state of emergency was declared Thursday night in nine counties after a chemical known as crude MCHM, which is used to clean coal, spilled into the Elk River.It contaminated the water supply for residents in eight counties and part of a ninth. West Virginia American Water customers in Kanawha, Putnam, Jackson, Roane, Clay, Boone, Logan and Lincoln counties, and Culloden in Cabell County were affected.The water ban left a conservative estimate of 300,000 people without potable water for more than three days.The elderly, infirm, and those without vehicles had no way to get water without the help of family, neighbors or county workers.Workers at the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority have worked non-stop since Thursday evening to get water, and food in some cases, to those who couldn't get it themselves.Brent Burger, director of support services, said that ambulance staff had run more than 1,600 delivery missions since Thursday evening. Each could be two or three houses or 15 to 20 depending on location.Charleston officials have given out more than 800,000 bottles of water at three city firehouses in the last 72 hours. City workers also have been delivering water to health care facilities, shelters, food pantries, nursing homes and public housing complexes throughout the city.On Saturday, 17 county crews were on hand to run missions. Fifteen were running delivery missions Sunday, said Deborah Mahairas, assistant unit leader at the county ambulance authority. Mahairas has been coordinating missions at the garage since Thursday evening.The Kanawha County Emergency Operations Center takes the names, addresses and phone numbers of those in need, received either by phone or word of mouth, and then distributes that information to the ambulance authority. Mahairas then dispatches a crew. "It's been hectic at times but it's OK," she said. "We do what we do to get people the water they need."
EMTs and medics still are responding to emergency calls in the midst of all of this, Burger said.
The ambulance garage on Brooks Street held dozens of pallets stacked high with bottled water and MREs (that's Meals, Ready-to-Eat) brought in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Their supplies are not available to the public to pick up.EMTs and support staff members loaded the food and water into ambulances, pickup trucks and whatever county vehicles they could find to haul the provisions to those in need.Mahairas said she normally doesn't have the opportunity to interact much with the public but that they have received phone calls of thanks over the last few days. One message came from a woman whose mother received a water delivery at her assisted living apartment."They're so happy with their water they're having a water party out in the living room," the woman said before asking that her thanks be passed along to the drivers."That's why we do what we do," Mahairas said. "That's why I'm here - just to help people."Jeff Broyles and John Johnson had just finished their shift at 5 p.m. Thursday when they learned of the water ban. They went back to work three hours later to start helping deliver what little water the county had. The pair works on an ambulance together and gave up their weekend off to deliver water.
"We feel pretty good about it," Johnson said. "It's nice to be able to go help people when they're not sick or injured. Most of the time when we see people they're needing to go to the hospital.""I've had so many bless you's and thank you's in the last couple of days," Broyles said.The pair recalled a Saturday mission near Tornado where the road was impassable and the family met them on the street to collect their water. The family called to thank them before the medics made it back to Charleston.They were met with happy people Sunday afternoon as they maneuvered a county extended-cab pickup around eastern Kanawha County to deliver water to people like Antoenina Jackson.Jackson has cerebral palsy, cancer and recently found out she will have to have a catheter inserted into her heart. She hadn't been taking her medication because she did not have water. She said she spent her days in her Starling Drive apartment without water "sleeping, sleeping and sleeping."She had hoped at first that the water ban would only be in place for a few hours but grew more anxious as it stretched into days. She was thankful to receive cases of water Sunday and planned to drink and wash up."I can't wait until this is over with," she said.Jimmy Betzing, 58, had only a small amount of water for the three at his Church Drive home. His friend Jerry Dively, 59, had been dropping off what water he could. The pair approached Broyles and Johnson while they were delivering to another woman on the block."I'm used to taking showers on the regular, but that's hard to do now," Betzing said. He had a case of water from Dively, "but what's a case going to do when you got three people in your house," he said.Joann Chapouris of Rand already had an emergency kit with bottled water and a generator prepared for herself and Wilda Quinn but worried that the water ban would be in effect for longer than her small supply of water could cover."We're just so glad this showed up," Chapouris said.Jimmy Petry, 31, hasn't used the water in his Chesapeake home since Thursday but said it felt like it had been much longer for himself, his wife and their four children. To make matters worse, his pickup broke down last week.He said the town of Chesapeake gave them some water for their 6-month-old daughter but that they were in need of more for the three older children and themselves. Petry was glad to see Johnson and Broyles approaching his house with three cases of bottled water."We were really scared," Petry said. "It's scary. This is dangerous stuff."Petry said he worked with the chemical that spilled for about nine years in the coal industry at Mineral Labs in Kentucky. He said when he caught the first whiff of licorice in the air he knew what it was."It was just a really strong smell, really sweet," he said. "It smelled just like it did when I worked down at the lab."Petry was laid off from the mines and now is a stay-at-home dad. His wife manages a nearby Gino's Pizza, which was shut down in the water ban, but she has managed to put in a few hours of cleaning.Crews have taken distilled water to those who need it for their oxygen machines, and bottled water overnight to those needing breathing treatments."Whatever they need, if we have it we'll get it to them," Mahairas said.The Kanawha County Emergency Management Center can be reached at 304-746-8828.Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at email@example.com