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Jackson, Mississippi, Residents Enter 4th Week Of Water Crisis

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hundreds of residents in Jackson, Miss., are now in week four of a water crisis. Some in the majority-Black capital city still don't have water after last month's winter storm. Others have to boil their water first. Mississippi Public Broadcasting's Becca Schimmel spent time with a family struggling to get by.

BECCA SCHIMMEL, BYLINE: Marion Roberts has been without running water since the middle of February.

MARION ROBERTS: I'm turning the faucet on and off. And as you can see, there's no drips. There's no nothing. It's just dry. Nothing, no water.

SCHIMMEL: Roberts keeps her faucets open, so she'll hear the water as soon as it comes back on. She lives with her three adult children. The winter storm that ravaged Texas, causing millions of people there to lose power and water, also hit Mississippi, freezing pipes and breaking decades-old water mains. Roberts has been trying to pick up water from city distribution sites or buy it at grocery stores so that her family can try to have some sense of normalcy.

ROBERTS: So I've been trying to, like, keep up with it. We take baths with it. We take, like, four bottles of water, take a bath. Yeah. And we brush our teeth - is one bottle. We're still not able to wash dishes.

SCHIMMEL: All of those mundane and routine tasks people take for granted require more time and effort for the nearly 500 homes and businesses in Jackson that still have no water. Even flushing her toilet requires her to fill it up each time. So Roberts now has a new daily routine.

ROBERTS: Start going through the process of getting everything together. These bottles are empty. As you can see, there's an empty bottle right there. We start loading stuff up in the trunk. I had a water cooler. And we'd just fill up the water and then bring it back to the house. And I would do that probably - I was doing it twice a day. Now I'm down to doing it once a day. So, like, tomorrow, if I need some more water, I'll go back, fill up.

SCHIMMEL: Robert's 20-year-old daughter Melody hasn't had a proper shower at home for weeks. Every day when she goes to college, she worries about what other people think.

MELODY: It don't make me feel so confident as much as I am because I'm like, I cleaned myself, but what if I have a smell to me because I don't have water at home?

SCHIMMEL: And her mother, Marion, cares deeply for her city. Seeing the people of Jackson go without water for so long is maddening, especially when it feels like people outside the state have forgotten about Mississippians who are suffering.

ROBERTS: I mean, I feel like the help has lessened. You don't see the National Guard out here anymore. Everybody's gone. It's like, forget them. And I feel like it's because of the color of my skin. And I hate that.

SCHIMMEL: South Jackson, where the Roberts live, has been hit especially hard by the water crisis. Jackson's population is about 80% Black and has long had trouble getting the attention and financial help it needs. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba doesn't deny how racism has factored into the city's underfunded infrastructure.

CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA: I think that if we're honest with ourselves, we have to recognize the role that that plays. Often, we're a bit skittish of having those conversations. But we have to realize that issues of race are as American as apple pie.

SCHIMMEL: Lumumba says the city has known it's needed to rebuild its infrastructure for years. In 2010, another big freeze did even more damage than this winter storm. The mayor says Jackson needs help, and it's going to take state or federal funding to secure safe drinking water. For Marion Roberts, she's debating what's next for her.

ROBERTS: I mean, I love the city of Jackson. I love Mississippi. I was raised here. But if I had a choice, to be honest, if I can get up and move - like, somebody told me, you can go anywhere - I would move.

SCHIMMEL: It's still unclear when the water will be back on for the hundreds of people like her. For NPR News, I'm Becca Schimel in Jackson, Miss.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "CLOUDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.