(NEW YORK) — After a barrage of icy storms, strong winds and record-breaking freezes, Americans living in southern states are now battling one of weather’s most dangerous side effects — bursting pipes.
Residents in Tennessee and Mississippi were placed under water advisory notices and had limited access to clean, running water.
The city of Memphis was under a five-day water boiling notice while repair crews worked around-the-clock to repair pipes that had burst in the frigid temperatures. The boiling notice was lifted on Tuesday, according to Memphis Light, Gas and Water.
“Four inches of snow in the Northeast, for example, wouldn’t be a hazard, but in the South, we don’t have the same level of operational infrastructure,” according to a spokesperson for Memphis Mayor Paul Young.
Water pipes can start to freeze when the temperature reaches 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If pipes freeze solid, residents lose access to running water completely and the pressure buildup can cause pipes to burst, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Young’s office praised Memphis Light, Gas and Water for working quickly to restore water infrastructure and lift water boiling advisories as quickly and safely as possible.
“The very cold temps caused breaks in pipes in businesses and homes and about 70 water mains. MLGW was able to restore full system pressure within 72 hours and will be lifting the precautionary boil water advisory today,” Young’s spokesperson said.
If water mains and pipes crack or burst, the conditions within the water infrastructure could potentially allow contaminants to enter the distribution system, according to the National Association of Water Companies.
In Jackson, Mississippi, 12,000 customers, largely in the west and south areas of the city, saw low to no water pressure at the height of last week’s freeze, according to Jackson’s public utility service, JXN Water.
“How do you think you’ll feel [if] you didn’t have water?” Jackson resident Jackie Pitchford told ABC affiliate WAPT-TV on Monday after waking up to no water running from her kitchen sink. “You had to use the bathroom. Do you want to take a bath? It’s like living in the woods. Like being homeless, or something,” she said.
Pitchford shared her frustration over needing to buy water amid the freeze and still pay her utility bill at the end of the month.
“It’s been terrible because you have to buy water and you still have a bill to pay,” Pitchford said. “And we are seniors and we can’t afford that on a fixed income.”
Jackson has been hit with a total of 145 water pipe breaks, including 16 new breaks which were reported Tuesday. Of those, 102 breaks have been repaired or are under active repair as crews continue to combat the effects of the icy weather, according to JXN Water.
“The winter weather was challenging for all of us, especially with the combination of pipe breaks because of the cold and significantly higher than usual water use,” Ted Henifin, a manager at JXN Water, told ABC News. “We’re working around the clock to make the system better every day.”
Henifin noted that in addition to icy weather, the city’s increasing demand for water had contributed to the crisis.
“Demand is down significantly from the peak experienced during the freeze but still remains about 4 million gallons per day above our average,” Henifin said of the increased water demand affecting the area’s pipes. “There may still be isolated pressure fluctuations throughout the remainder of the week as storage is not fully recovered.”
While water companies and local authorities are working to repair public access to water, there are steps residents can take to help themselves and their communities at large.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when residents are expecting very cold or freezing temperatures they should:
-Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
-Keep the temperature inside your home warm.
-Allow heated air to reach pipes. For example, open cabinet doors beneath the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
-If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Thaw the pipes slowly with warm air from an electric hair dryer.
-If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes have broken open, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home.
-As an emergency measure, if no other water is available, snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs but won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.
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