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Five days later, these Eastern Kentucky residents have no running water

The Martin County Water District has yet to restore water access to some 1,000 customers since it shut off access on Monday. Residents said they have had trouble bathing and cooking, among other things.
The Martin County Water District has yet to restore water access to some 1,000 customers since it shut off access on Monday. Residents said they have had trouble bathing and cooking, among other things. LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER

About 1,000 people in Martin County were without water Friday afternoon, five days after the Martin County Water District began shutting off water to many of its customers at night.

The financially ailing water district first announced nightly shutoffs Monday because of “high water usage, busted meters, etc.”

The district announced Friday afternoon that it would shut off water again in some areas, from 7 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Saturday.

For some customers, the water turns off only during these designated hours, but others have had no running water since Monday.

Residents in the Appalachian county on the Kentucky-West Virginia state line said on Facebook that the lack of water has made it difficult to bathe, shower and cook, among other things.

Kathy Jude, who lives in Martin County, told the Herald-Leader that it has been difficult to care for her husband’s grandfather, who has been without running water since Monday.

“It’s been hard for him,” Jude said. “He can’t bathe, and he needs to bathe every day.”

Jude said she has used bottled water to bathe him since Monday.

A video posted Wednesday by The Mountain Citizen newspaper appeared to show a police officer arresting Gary Michael Hunt of Martin County in Martin County Fiscal Court during an emergency meeting about the water crisis.

Hunt used profanity while criticizing the district’s response to the water crisis. The video then shows a law enforcement officer saying, “That’s disorderly conduct,” and “You’re under arrest,” before grabbing him by the throat and escorting him out of the courtroom.

“All I want is for the people of Martin County to have water,” Hunt told the Herald-Leader. “It’s time to get rid of the crooks. It’s been time for a long time.”

Hunt said he was given a citation and must appear in court, but he wasn’t taken to jail.

Officials initially turned off water to allow depleted storage tanks to fill, according to the district’s Facebook page, but leaks might be preventing the tanks from filling.

On a Facebook group called Martin County Water Warriors, one woman said water to her house has been shut off for five days.

Others criticized the district for not effectively communicating when it will restore access to water, and they blamed corruption for the district’s longstanding troubles.

Martin County 911 Director Eric Jude said the county will tell people through its Facebook page and a Code Red alert system where and when drinking water will be distributed. People can sign up for the alert system online, through a link on the district’s Facebook page.

The district has a long history of problems related to water pressure and water quality, and it’s the subject of a Public Service Commission investigation.

Danielle Fletcher, 31, of Martin County, said the water hasn’t been safe to drink for years.

“Everybody that has city water has to go buy drinking water,” Fletcher said. “You turn it on, and it smells like bleach.”

The district made a long Facebook post Friday about its troubles, citing a lack of funding for its shortcomings.

“Plainly speaking, we owe $831,000 in past-due bills that we don’t have the funds to pay,” the post reads. “Half of the clean water we produce is lost in the distribution system through pipe breaks, service line leaks and failing meters.”

The post says the district is compliant with all Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards.

The PSC will hold a hearing Feb. 28 in Frankfort about the investigation.

Reporter Bill Estep contributed to this story.

Will Wright is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach him at 859-270-9760, @HLWright.

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