The day after a water-main break affected more than 80,000 Orange County residents, volunteers from dozens of organizations and communities banded together to get water to those in need.
Customers of the Orange Water and Sewer Authority, mostly residents in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, were told not to drink or use the water for fear of contamination and reducing the limited supply for critical services after a broken water main discovered Friday leaked up to 1.5 million gallons of water a day after the utility began getting water from Durham following a fluoride overfeed at its drinking water plant. Fluoride is added to water to prevent tooth decay but can be harmful in excessive amounts.
The do-not-use order was lifted Saturday afternoon.
Earlier in the day, four water distribution sites opened at 10 a.m., with long lines of vehicles waiting before cases were handed out.
Alejandro Alick III, a Chapel Hill resident, helped usher vehicles through the line to pick up water at Hargraves Community Center.
“I wanted to help because I know my community is in crisis,” he said. “I thought since my family – we have enough to get where we need – I thought I would come out and be a help to the rest of the community.”
Shari Porterfield, American Red Cross Disaster Action Team captain and Orange County resident, got less than three hours of sleep Friday night helping victims of fires in Pitt County but said she knew she had to be out to help Saturday.
At Hargraves and the three other distribution sites, people were allowed one case of bottled water per family.
“But if they say they need more we don’t question it,” she said. “We’re just here to help.”
The majority of people stopping at the distribution sites were in vehicles, but some walked from their homes and others used their wheelchairs.
Deborah Russell walked to the Southern Community Park distribution site and said she’s worried about a friend who is a refugee from Rwanda.
“They really need to think about people, in this situation, who don’t have cars and can’t carry water for miles and miles,” she said.
Russell said she’d spent several years without running water and was concerned for people who didn’t have access to a vehicle.
“We’ve never had anything like this happen here,” Porterfield said. “This is the worse side of the county for this to happen on because these people depend on the water and you’ve got the college here and hospitals here. We’ve got a lot of elderly people here in the area.”
Katherine O’Brien and Joanne Andrews, representing the Durham-based Beaver Lodge 1504, were at Hargraves to give coffee to volunteers and people driving through the water line.
“We heard they were using Durham water anyway and we couldn’t start our day without a hot cup of coffee,” O’Brien said. “And we believe in contributing to our community ... so we are here to be good neighbors.”