Charleston Water Crisis



Charleston endures gale, sets sail over troubled waters

Water is something we all need.  We also have a tendency to take it for granted.  On the evening of January 9 in Southern West Virginia, clean, uncontaminated water was effectively a thing of the past.  Over 7,500 gallons of the toxic MCHM chemical leaked into Elk River, leaving over 300,000 citizens in eight counties and part of a ninth without water.  The Governor immediately declared a State of Emergency and Do Not Use advisories were implemented.  The only allowed use for public water was flushing commodes and fighting fires.  You couldn’t drink it, cook with it, bathe in it, wash clothes in it, or even wash your hands. And you could actually smell the chemical in the river and the tap water. 

I immediately contacted my Regional Vice President (RVP) Cathy Bellew who, at the time, was in Tucson, Arizona. In the meantime, Resident Monitor Supervisor Mike Patterson and I went in different directions in an effort to buy bottled water.  People were literally getting into fist fights in supermarkets in the water aisle.  We managed to obtain four cases between the two of us, about enough to get us through lunch the next day.  While Patterson and I we were busy searching, Bellew was successful in finding hundreds of bottles of water, even while 2,000 miles away.  She had called a Kroger store in nearby Beckley and had them hold an entire pallet of 880 bottles for the Charleston facility.  Bellew’s husband, Steve made the pickup for us and delivered it to the facility. When asked how she managed this feat when all others had failed, her one word answer was “God!.” 

By Sunday morning, Bellew had also arranged for a commercial water supply company to deliver 100 gallons daily to our facility.  And by Sunday afternoon, she had located a small motel with a different water provider where the residents could take showers and wash their personal laundry.  Linens were being washed at a professional laundry service.  During this time period, facility sanitation was maintained, necessary dishes were scrubbed and floors were mopped with bottled water.  Staff continued to show up every day without complaint to carry on the Dismas mission. 

I’ve been with Dismas  about three years now and, like most Directors, am fiercely loyal to my RVP. Her answering our need in this crisis cemented those sentiments. Likewise, I have never been so thankful for the support of President Weis, Executive Vice President Kempf, our Corporate staff, and my facility staff for their support during this time. Sometimes it can be easy to get in a nice, comfortable routine.  We flip a switch, the lights come on.  We turn a dial, the heat or air comes on.  We turn a faucet, clean, drinkable water comes out.  When the day arrives when those things don’t happen, the words that President Weis conveyed to us during the Leadership Symposium in Louisville take on a crystal clear meaning.   As long as we have the will to succeed, we will find the means.  “It is not the strength of the gale, but the set of the sail.”