Water crisis in West Helena continues as students return to school

PHILLIPS COUNTY, Ark. — The water crisis continues for people living in West Helena, Arkansas, as local and state officials work on a plan for repairing a system that has failed for the second time in seven months.

Members of the Arkansas National Guard are now on duty seven days a week, providing water for West Helena residents. It comes as students, most from homes without running water, returned to school Tuesday.

AR town receives help from National Guard during water shortage

“The best option for kids is to be in school, where we have running water. We have restrooms, we can feed them breakfast and lunch,” said Helena-West Helena School District Superintendent Keith McGee.

McGee said only about 500 students came to school Tuesday, and he has lifted some restrictions in light of the water crisis.

“We definitely have waived our school uniform policy until further notice, so the only thing we ask our scholars to do is to dress appropriate,” he said.

Setbacks impact Helena-West Helena water system repair

McGee said he plans to have portable showers and laundry services set up at Central High School by the end of the week.

On the campus of Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, which serves about 800 students with many of them being from West Helena, steps have already been taken to provide separate showers for males and females as well as laundry service and bottled water.

Bottled water, water for drinking and washing dishes, and water for flushing toilets is in high demand and available at the Phillips County Justice Complex.

But Gwendolyn Mabon, a grandmother of five, says there’s never enough.

“And you got to cook, you got to clean, they got to have a bath, they have to brush they teeth, wash they face, get ready for school,” Mabon said.

Water crisis in Helena-West Helena blamed on ‘antiquated’ system

Everyone is anxious for a solution to yet another water system failure.

“I know they were trying to see if they could slowly fill up the tank here in West Helena using water from Helena though a valve. I don’t know the status of that,” said Phillips County Judge Clark Hall.

The water distribution site at the Phillips County Justice Complex will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, to meet the need until the water issues are resolved.

We reached out to the Helena-West Helena mayor’s staff for an update on the water situation but have not heard back.

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