HAZARD—Over 3,000 City of Hazard water customers have been without running water for nearly a week, but officials say they are working as fast as possible to get the water flowing again.
Perry County Emergency Management Director John Epperson confirmed that a state of emergency had been declared on Friday in the county by Judge-Executive Denny Ray Noble at the request of the City of Hazard. Efforts then began to supply bottled water to those communities affected, which currently include Buckhorn, Chavies, Grapevine, Krypton, Busy, Leatherwood, Cornettsville, and Viper.
The loss of running water has caused issues in nearly every aspect of life for those living in the communities affected. The Perry County School District has not been in session since the water issues began Friday since at least five of its schools are without water; this comes after a long stretch of cancelled classes due to poor weather conditions, the same weather conditions attributed to the current water outage.
“Floyd County’s going through the same thing, parts of Pike County have been affected, Knott County has been affected. It’s the same thing, all really going back to those subzero temperatures last week, water main breaks, and people draining the tanks trying to fill a bathtub or whatever,” Epperson said.
Hazard Fire Chief Sam Stacy, who has been spearheading the effort to return water service to the entire county, said the city water department is working its way up the county to fix the waterlines.
“Where we’re at at the moment is we’re starting to turn water back on. Right now we’re working on the south end of Perry County in the Route 7, Viper, Maces Creek area, and we’re going up toward Hall Mountain,” Stacy said Monday. “Our plan is to continue doing that and hopefully get as much back on in the south as possible today.”
Epperson said he has received many understandable complaints from those in the county, asking why it is taking so long for the water to be turned back on.
Stacy explained that the process is not like just flipping a switch because, due to the subzero temperature of the previous week and the subsequent waterline breaks throughout the county, the department must be sure that everything is working properly.
“We’re turning sections on one at a time to be sure that we don’t have any leaks as we continue on,” Stacy said. “Every time we turn a section on we’ve got to check it for leaks, and if it does have a leak we have to turn it back off, fix the leak, so it’s real meticulous trying to get it all back on.”
Stacy said an estimation of when the entire county would have water service returned was nearly impossible to give at this time.
“Honestly, there’s no way of humanly know that, but the water departments is working 24 hours a day trying to get it back on as fast as possible,” he said.
In the meantime, Epperson said the county and city have been working together to get bottled water out to the communities in need.
“In the past when we’ve had a state of emergency … the state stepped in and helped finance buying the water,” Epperson said. “They told us Friday when we declared it a state of emergency, now they look at water issues as local issues and would not help fund or buy anything.”
Epperson said this made the situation even more difficult for the county since budgets have been tightened even more this year.
“We just had to combine our local resources,” he said.
Local resources along with generous donations of bottled water from organizations and businesses, like the Christian Appalachian Project and Wal-Mart, helped emergency management be able to distribute nearly 2,300 cases of water as of Monday afternoon at no cost to local tax payers.
“The way we set it up to distribute it is to distribute it through our local fire departments that are in the areas affected outside the city limits of Hazard,” Epperson explained, adding that the City of Buckhorn would be giving water out instead of the fire department there.
Epperson said anyone can donate water if they would like to.
“The can contact the emergency management office, myself, or the county judge’s office, or the City of Hazard because we’re all working together on it,” he said. “We can even transport it if they wanted to donate pallets.”
Stacy said due to increased water use, with customers continuously running water and water loss with line breaks in the last week, the city’s water system used 4 million gallons of water in one day last week — 1 million gallons more than is normally used in a day. This has caused reserve tanks to run low, so customers with water should continue to be conservative with their water usage as crews continue work on waterlines.
“We want to ask them to conserve in any way possible. Don’t be washing vehicles; don’t be running water at night because the temperatures are going to be fine this weekend,” Stacy said. “We’re trying to catch up. It’s just going to take a while. If people can help us conserving water would be greatly appreciated.”