Memphis residents are on day 4 of a boil water notice while ice hits Arkansas and Missouri

The 600,000 residents of Memphis, Tennessee, are on their fourth day of living under a boil water notice

Adrian Sainz
Monday 22 January 2024 17:04 GMT

Memphis was on its fourth day of living under a boil water notice on Monday, as repair crews worked to fix broken pipes in the hopes of easing the stress caused by a week of sub-freezing temperatures, snow and ice in this southern city.

Memphis’ water company issued an advisory on Friday that residents of this city of more than 600,000 people should boil water they intended to use for drinking, brushing their teeth and preparing food. That's because low pressure in the system and breaks in water mains could allow harmful bacteria to contaminate the water supply.

Some residents lost all water service after winter storms that have caused at least 75 deaths around the U.S. this month, many involving hypothermia or road accidents. In Tennessee, the several inches of snow and unusually low temperatures led the Tennessee Valley Authority to ask the 10 million people in its service area to conserve energy to avoid rolling blackouts. The utility saw its highest demand for electricity ever last week but the system remained stable.

Memphis, Light, Gas and Water CEO Doug McGowen told reporters Sunday afternoon that crews were making progress with repairs and he expects most customers to have water service restored on Monday and Tuesday. They will still have to boil water, likely through Thursday, though.

Pamela Wells had been without any water since Thursday morning when she noticed a trickle coming through on Sunday night.

“We kept praying that it was a sign that water was on the way,” she said. They woke up Monday morning to find water pressure restored to about 40% of normal. “Hopefully we're on our way to full restoration of our water.”

Family and friends have helped them by delivering bottled water, she said, but she really missed things that she normally takes for granted like being able to wash her hands in the sink or take a shower.

As Memphis continued to thaw, McGowen also asked people to stop dripping their faucets and resist the temptation to wash their cars to help build pressure in the system. The city has been repairing at least 51 water main breaks and located more than 4,000 leaks at homes and businesses.

Memphis was the largest, but not the only, water system in Tennessee to experience problems from the unusually cold weather. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said on Sunday night that 28 water systems were under boil water notices and 17 counties were reporting operational issues with their water utilities.

In Tipton County, the fire department in Mason warned residents on Sunday to be prepared for a multiday water outage.

“There is no current time table on how long it will be before water services will be fully restored to all customers,” fire officials said in a Facebook post.

The outages and boil water notices led residents throughout West Tennessee to clean out bottled water supplies in stores. There were also long lines for bottled water giveaways by local governments and churches.

As Memphis was warming up and beginning to reopen closed businesses and government offices, freezing rain was falling in Arkansas and Missouri, leading to fatal accidents and concerns of possible power outages.

Forecasters warned that up to a half-inch (1.27 centimeters) of ice could coat parts of the area by Monday evening. That prompted an ice storm warning for Monday that included much of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains and the cities of Fayetteville and Fort Smith. A small part of northeastern Oklahoma was also under an ice storm warning Monday, the National Weather Service said.

The ice – combined with winds of up to 20 mph (32 kph) – could lead to power outages, the agency said.

In Missouri, three fatal accidents were reported Monday morning as freezing drizzle in some spots and freezing rain in others created a thin coat of ice that blanketed much of the state. Capt. John Hotz of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said one fatal accident involved a Missouri Department of Transportation truck, but no further details were immediately released. Twenty others were injured in accidents statewide. Most involved cars, trucks and semi-trailers skidding on the ice.

“Just lots of slide-offs,” said Dallas Thompson, a St. Louis-area trooper.

Meanwhile, heavy rain in Southern California prompted the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management to issue an evacuation warning near Topanga Canyon effective through Tuesday morning due to possible mud or debris flows.

The Los Angeles office of the National Weather Service reported possible rain totals up to 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) and up to 2.5 inches (6.3 centimeters) across the area’s foothills through Monday night.


Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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