Photo: Elk River
The U.S. government on Friday declared a state of emergency in nine West Virginia counties due to a chemical spill in the Elk River, which has cut off the water supply to some 300,000 people.
The declaration will allow the counties contaminated by the spill to receive aid, even as schools, bars and restaurants have been closed and locals have been told not to drink, cook or bathe with tap water.
The spill originated at a coal-treatment plant on the banks of the Elk River in Charleston, the state capital, and belongs to the Freedom Industries company.
The river current carried the contaminated water downstream into a water-treatment plant, forcing authorities to tell the population not to use tap water.
Even before state Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told customers of West Virginia American Water not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water, some area residents noted on social networks that the water pipes had a suspicious smell.
The alarm was sounded immediately among the population, prompting tens of thousands of citizens to buy up all the bottled water from all the stores and supermarkets in the nine-county area.