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19th January 2016
...continued from Part 1

As late as February 2014, the option for Flint to use Detroit’s system in the interim was still on the table. The following month, however, then-Flint emergency manager, Darnell Earley, wrote a letter to Detroit water officials – obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which broke the story of Flint’s lead water crisis – saying he expects “that the Flint Water Treatment Plant will be fully operational and capable of treating Flint River.”

“In that case, there will be no need for Flint to continue purchasing water to serve its residents and businesses after April 17, 2014,” wrote Earley, who’s now the emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools.

He’s trying to save face’

On Thursday, outside a water resource center near downtown Flint, Larry Ross said elected officials from the top down carry responsibility.

“I believe that the governor, the state, and the powers that be, I think it’d be safe to say there was a cover-up. I think they were trying to take the cheapest way out as far as restoring this water condition,” Ross said. “If it wasn’t for the national exposure, I think they would’ve left things the way they are.”

A line snaked out the door and continued to grow as residents tried to stay warm in frigid January temperatures. Motorists double-parked their vehicles throughout the firehouse’s lot, leaving little room to navigate. Observing nearby, Flint’s fire chief, David Cox Jr, said the chaotic scene illustrated the “plight of the city”.

“Anytime that truck is delivering it’s going to get crazy out here,” said David Cox Jr, the city’s fire chief. “And this is only one station; it’s like this everywhere at all fire stations.”

Residents say they’re grateful to see the influx of supplies and assistance. But Lee-Anne Walters, the Flint mother who first reached out to EPA officials in early 2015 with concerns about her tap water, said Snyder’s response still leaves much to be desired.

Last year, Walters’ son, Gavin, was diagnosed with lead poisoning and has since developed speech impediments, she said. When Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher tested her water, the results were astounding: one test returned a result that Walters’ water was filled with 13,200 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, substantially higher than levels deemed safe by the EPA. (At 5,000ppb, water is considered hazardous waste.)

“I still feel like he’s trying to save face to save his career rather than try to save the people,” Walters said of Snyder’s response to the crisis.

The announcement this week that city officials will begin shutting off water to residents with unpaid bills will likely cause additional grumbling, amid the ongoing controversy.

But the chief concern for now remains obtaining clean water.

While Ross and others waited their turn to pick up a jug and case of water, a volunteer emerged from the door and shouted: “Everybody listen up, for the first time we have water testing kits … everybody should be walking out of here with a water testing kit, even if you just came for water.”

As more residents started filling inside, the volunteer tried to offer a silver-lining: “At least it’s not snowy today.”