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Mississippi capital’s water disaster developed over decades

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Mississippi capital’s water disaster developed over decades

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — For at least the third time in a dozen years, portable toilets are parked outside the ornate Mississippi Capitol because Jackson’s water system is in crisis.

The big “Gotta Go” trailer is just one example of the city’s desperation. Many homes, businesses and government offices have had little or no running water this week, forcing people to wait in long lines for drinking water or water to flush toilets.

The scenes testify to the near collapse of a water system that residents could not trust even in the best of times. The failure to provide such an essential service reflects decades of government dysfunction, population change and decaying infrastructure. It has also fueled a political battle in which largely white GOP state lawmakers have shown little interest in helping a mostly Black city run by Democrats.

“We’re on a budget, and we have to go buy water all the time. All the time,” said Mary Huard, whose child has been forced to shift to online schooling because in-person classes were called off due to weak water pressure.

Even before the pressure dropped, Jackson’s system was fragile, and officials had warned for years that widespread loss of service was possible. A cold snap in 2021 froze pipes and left tens of thousands of people without running water. Similar problems happened again early this year, on a smaller scale.

Broken water and sewer pipes are also common in Mississippi’s largest city. The Environmental Protection Agency told Jackson months ago that its water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The crisis deepened after heavy rain last week flooded the Pearl River and exacerbated trouble at the main water-treatment plant during the weekend.

The lines for water formed at churches, fire stations, community centers and outside big-box stores.

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Outside a high school, volunteers used a pump connected to a tanker to distribute water to people who showed up with whatever empty containers they could find. One woman brought a truck bed full of empty paint buckets. A school maintenance worker hauled away a garbage container with water sloshing over the sides.

When Gov. Tate Reeves and President Joe Biden declared the situation an emergency, residents had already been advised for a month to boil their water before doing everything from brushing teeth to boiling pasta.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said fixing the problems could cost billions of dollars — far beyond Jackson’s ability to pay. That ability has been limited by a shrinking tax base that resulted from white flight, which began about a decade after public schools were integrated in 1970.

The population peaked in 1980 at nearly 203,000. It currently stands at about 150,000, with about 25% of residents living in poverty.

In the past half-century, the racial composition of Jackson has also changed. Once majority white, it is now more than 80% Black. The suburbs encircling Jackson are generally whiter and more prosperous and have newer infrastructure.

The mostly white, Republican-dominated Mississippi Legislature has been reluctant to offer assistance, even though the problems have disrupted daily life in the Capitol where lawmakers work for at least a few months every year.

The Democratic mayor and the Republican governor rarely speak to each other. And when Reeves held a news conference Monday to announce a state of emergency, Lumumba was nowhere to be seen. Reeves said he did not invite the mayor.

They held separate news conferences again Tuesday and Wednesday, although Lumumba insisted they are working as a team. By Thursday, the two finally appeared together.

“Right now, what we’re focused on is the operational unity that we have,” Lumumba said as he stood by Reeves. “Operational unity means that we’re focused more on our common ends and objectives than any differences that we may have revealed at some point in time.”

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Reeves frequently criticizes Jackson for its crime rate and has said the city’s water problems stem from shoddy management.

“I know that the team at the state Department of Health as well as the EPA has been working tirelessly since 2016 trying to convince the city to come into compliance with the orders that have been put forth. They were generally unsuccessful at that,” Reeves said Monday.

Cecil Brown is a Democrat who represented part of Jackson in the Mississippi House for 16 years before serving on the state Public Service Commission. He urged city, state and congressional leaders to work together.

“If you don’t like each other, it’s OK, let’s say, ’If we can’t work together, let’s put our staff together,” Brown said in an interview Thursday.

The governor has blocked some efforts to alleviate the water woes. After the city hired a private contractor to handle water billing, some customers went months without receiving bills, while others skipped payments.

In 2020, Reeves vetoed legislation that would have let Jackson forgive at least a portion of the unpaid water bills for poor people. He took a more passive approach in 2021, allowing water-payment legislation to become law by letting the proposal sit for five days without his signature.

Lumumba has complained that Mississippi, a state with almost a 40% Black population, is often overlooked by national Democrats and taken for granted by Republicans.

Criticism about the Jackson water debacle is not strictly partisan.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat whose district includes most of Jackson, said in mid-August that Jackson leaders had not provided specific proposals for improvements.

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“The city fathers and mothers will have to step up, produce that plan that we can begin to sell from Jackson to Washington,” Thompson told television station WJTV.

An infrastructure bill signed into law last year by Biden is designed to address problems like Jackson’s, but it’s unclear how much of that money the Mississippi capital will receive.

At the same time, Mississippi is slashing taxes. This year, Reeves signed the state’s largest-ever tax cut, which will reduce revenue by an estimated $185 million the first year and $525 million the final year.

The governor argued that cutting the income tax would “lead to more wealth for all Mississippians,” even as one of the poorest states in the nation struggles to support schools and rural hospitals.

Reeves has not said whether he will call a special session of the Legislature before January to consider aid for Jackson. Any proposals will face opposition from some Republicans who say the state should not rescue Jackson from its predicament.

But Republican state Sen. Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula, along the Gulf Coast, said he is willing to help if the aid includes an accountability plan.

“The state ‘bailing out’ the city after what appears to be decades long neglect & failed leadership violates my sense of accountability & conservative principles,” Wiggins wrote on Twitter. He added that he remembers government aid after Hurricane Katrina.

“In the end, it’s about the safety of Jackson’s citizens & its economic viability,” Wiggins said.

Even when Jackson is not under a boil-water notice, Sharon Epps said she buys bottled water for her family because she doesn’t trust the tap water. She said her landlord replaced a broken line that spewed raw sewage into the back yard.

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“When you can’t use the bathroom like you want to, and it’s floating in your back yard, that’s the saddest part about it. And then you can’t sit out in the back yard because it smells so bad,” Epps said. “It’s a disaster, baby.”

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Associated Press Writer Michael Goldberg contributed to this report. Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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