The hard freeze left McComb with little to no water Monday night, public works officials scrambling to fix the problem and residents under a boil-water notice, all after the department responsible for infrastructure found itself without its supervisor.
It’s unclear how long McComb residents will be without water or with low water pressure, Mayor Quordiniah Lockley said.
The problem stems from a burst water main on West Street and a wreck in the Algiers neighborhood in which a motorist drove into a fire hydrant.
“It is going to be a while,” Lockley said Tuesday. “We have got to get people in and because of the conditions of the streets, it is hard to get them. We are doing our best to address the problems and we ask the citizens to just have patience.
“This is something that doesn’t happen often here in McComb. With this type of weather conditions, no matter how prepared you are, every city would experience similar circumstances.”
The police and fire departments are assisting on the search for other issues in the city’s water lines.
Lockley said residents should boil water until further notice, adding that he could not give an estimate for when the water service will to return to normal.
Assistant public works director Eric Spurlock said city water tanks were filling up as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and workers were out fixing the damage.
The city’s two biggest issues in the aftermath of the winter storm — water and streets — falls on the shoulders of the public works department, which is being led by Spurlock, who is filling in for director Alice Barnes.
Lockley declined to say why Barnes was not available, but she appeared in a closed-door executive session with the city board to discuss personnel matters on Thursday, arriving in a work truck and leaving visibly upset with the police chief in his car after telling other city employees she would not be available this week.
Sources who wished to remain anonymous said Barnes has been suspended without pay for five days for failing to properly discipline employees who were seen driving city vehicles outside of McComb. One source said Selectman Devante Johnson filmed the employees in the Gradyville community.
Johnson and Selectman Donovan Hill, who called the special meeting to seek disciplinary action in the public works department, both refused to speak about the issue because it involved city personnel.
“We did discipline one employee. It is an HR matter. It was rightly done, and I think in the future, the City of McComb will get better and move forward from it,” Hill said, adding that the pending winter storm “wasn’t a factor” in the city board’s unanimous decision on whether to take action.
“The same way we discipline a city administrator, police chief or fire chief. It is something that needed to be done,” Hill said.
And as the city works on its water issues, homeowners and plumbers will likely be doing similar work on a smaller scale after temperatures rise above freezing Wednesday, leading to the discovery of burst pipes.
James Trigleth, owner of JT Plumbing in Summit, said he has already gotten several calls from customers, noting that they all said they were without water. He said he expects more calls to come as the week goes on.
“I’ve already have gotten several calls this morning, and all of them are without water even though they had their faucets dripping,” he said. “It is going to be a high call volume when this thaws out. All plumbers have a waiting list, so be patient with your plumbers.”
Trigleth said the last big freeze Southwest Mississippi had forced him to work from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, and he expects much the same work schedule for this round of freezing weather.
He said homeowners should check their pipes and water meter for any water leaks once the temperature rises above freezing, which should be by Wednesday afternoon.
“The ones that haven’t had any water running can most likely expect a broken pipe,” he said. “Homeowners need to check their meters. If they see the meter spinning, then they need to go ahead and get in contact with a licensed plumber.”
Trigleth also noted that the last freeze caused a shortage of pipes in stores, and expects much the same to happen for this freeze.
“Last freeze a couple of years ago, everybody’s pipes were bought and sold out quickly,” he said. “As quick as trucks came into the store, the pipes were going right back out. Everybody will have a good supply until everybody gets out and starts making repairs.”