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Mississippi Residents, Jackson Water System Vulnerable As ‘Scary’ Freeze Arrives

Temperatures across Mississippi are expected to drop into the teens and even single digits overnight Thursday with highs below freezing in some areas on Friday, raising concerns about safety and infrastructure statewide, including the capital city’s water system. Forecasts say temperatures will remain in the 30s Fahrenheit and below throughout the weekend.

“We always want people to remember the four p’s of winter weather preparedness: your people, your pets, your pipes and your plants,” said Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Chief Communications Officer Malary White. She said to bring pets inside and check on elderly neighbors, vulnerable friends and family members.

In Jackson, officials are worried about the effect the winter weather could have on the water system. Earlier this year, capital city residents lost access to safe drinking water for weeks due to a combination of staffing shortages and flooding. But in 2021, a winter freeze led to citywide outages that left residents without running water for up to a month.

Ted Henifin, the interim third-party manager who took charge of Jackson’s water system several weeks ago, said winterization work and other “temporary” efforts have helped make the City’s water plants more resilient, expressing confidence that the plants were better prepared for the coming freeze. But Jackson’s pipes, which are in desperate need of repairs and upgrades, pose greater challenges.

Congress could soon approve $600 million to help the City restore its ailing water system, but even with the funds, those efforts could take years. Meanwhile, Jackson’s water system and its citizens remain vulnerable.

“When we get to the distribution system, the pipes under the city? Yeah, I’m not feeling quite as good,” Henifin said. “Because there’s really not much else we can do to protect it in the short term from this freeze issue. I portray it like this: The Jacksonians that I’ve run into are all suffering from post-traumatic ice syndrome. It’s warranted, I understand, (even if) I haven’t lived through it personally.

“Some areas could go into the teens, maybe even the single digits. And not only that—we’re expecting very dangerous wind chills as well, enough to

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