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Buckhorn, Vicco cut off from beleaguered Hazard system

BUCKHORN — At the end of about 30 miles of water pipe and icy winding road lie about 300 people — not to mention a state park, a clinic, a children’s home and a handful of businesses — who have been without water for a week or more and are feeling pretty bleak.

“We need it. We’ll all smell raunchy soon if we don’t get a shower,” said Buckhorn resident Frank White, laughing ruefully as he teased the mayor while picking up cases of bottled water at a community center.

The city has had spotty water service since a rock and mud slide damaged a key waterline Dec. 19.

Buckhorn buys its water from the Hazard municipal system, which is making little progress toward fixing its drinking water shortage. City officials shut off supply to Vicco in southern Perry County and all of Buckhorn, which is in northern Perry County, on Monday in order to find the source of a major leak that has depleted storage tanks across the system. Despite those efforts, levels continued to drop, Hazard City Manager Paul Feltner said.

“It’s not going good. It’s worsened today,” Feltner said Tuesday. “There’s no way it should worsen. ... Still we’ve lost storage today.”

He said Lexington’s private water supplier, Kentucky American Water, will arrive Wednesday with more sophisticated equipment to detect leaks in the system. He said the whole system will be checked from the intake point in Hazard outward.

In the meantime, 10 Kentucky National Guard members from the 103rd Brigade Support Battalion, based in Danville, were on their way to Buckhorn with a mobile water-purification unit, spokesman David Altom said.

A temporary connection to tie Buckhorn in to the Breathitt County Water District was settled in an emergency meeting Tuesday, officials said. The 0.4-mile connection, arranged between the state, Hazard and Breathitt County, will cost about $35,000.

Buckhorn has been under a boil-water advisory since the rock and mud slide during a storm Dec. 19, and water service in the city was off-and-on until about Dec. 31, said Robin Gabbard, who is the Buckhorn city clerk and water company manager.

“That’s when the next cold blast set in, and that’s when Hazard started experiencing a lot of problems,” she said.

Some parts of Buckhorn, such as Gays Creek and Squabble Creek, have had city water for only a couple of years or less. People who 18 months ago were hauling water from wells, pumping from springs or dipping from creeks are back to using the smelly, rust-colored water they thought they were rid of.

“A lot of people just aren’t able to get out and get the water from the creek,” said H.C. Sparks, proprietor of the Buckhorn grocery store, where weary customers traded tales and questions Tuesday. “You don’t realize how much you’ll miss it till it’s gone.”

The boil-water advisory stretched across the 7,000-customer Hazard water system by the end of Tuesday. Car washes were closed, and restaurants were not offering fountain drinks. On Monday, county officials declared a state of emergency because of a drinking-water shortage in the northern part of the county.

State emergency officials were in town surveying the situation. Agencies such as Buckhorn Children and Family Services had to buy drinking water and use river water for flushing toilets.

Buckhorn’s schools will be closed because of the water problems, Gabbard said.

Carol Smith said she and her husband held out as long as they could, but after five days without running water they reconnected their pump to some parts of the house.

She said she’s glad her two grandchildren don’t have to go to school — the thought of the sanitary conditions at a full school building with no water makes her shudder.

“You hear all your news, and they say ‘state of emergency,’ but we want to know what’s happening next,” Smith said.

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