▶ Watch Video: Water crisis is “absolutely tragic,” FEMA head says

The water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, hit its fourth day on Thursday, as authorities are still struggling to get the city’s water treatment plant back online and deliver safe drinking water to residents. President Biden declared a state of emergency in Jackson earlier this week, allowing for a surge of federal resources and aid — and FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell told CBS News her agency is responding immediately to help alleviate the “tragic situation.” 

“Our focus right now for FEMA is handling the immediate needs that Jackson, Mississippi, has,” Criswell told “CBS Evening News” anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell. “And right now, that’s making sure that they have safe water to drink, and that we are bringing in the resources that can do some temporary repairs to restore the water pressure to the city.” 

“We’re gonna continue to focus on what the medium- and long-term needs are going to be, but right now we’re really focused on these immediate needs and making sure people have safe water,” she added. 

Mississippi water crisis extends into fourth day


Officials reported progress in repairing the city’s deteriorating water treatment plant on Thursday, which was put under additional strain when the city faced torrential rainfall in August. But even as the water pressure returns, the capital and its surrounding communities remain under a boil-water notice. 

The National Guard has opened up new water distribution “mega sites,” adding to those already run by the city and volunteer groups. Residents are lining up by the thousands in the 90+ degree heat for bottled water.  

O’Donnell noted that residents are still being told to “shower with their mouth closed” and that some residents’ water is brown and dirty. 

When asked how this could happen in an American city in 2022, Criswell said, “It’s an absolutely tragic situation that we find ourselves in.” But the next step, she said, is finding a path forward. 

Members of the Mississippi National Guard hand out bottled water at Thomas Cardozo Middle School in response to the water crisis on September 01, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Brad Vest / Getty Images

“How are we gonna make sure that this doesn’t happen again?” Criswell said. “And bring in the right resources, the right experts that are gonna define a plan to help repair this critical piece of infrastructure and help the community of Jackson, Mississippi, get back to where it needs to be.” 

More than 80% of Jackson’s residents are Black. When asked if she thought this was an example of the lack of investment in communities of color, Criswell acknowledged natural disasters disproportionately impact communities of color, highlighting that equity is a “principal focus” for the administration. 

Criswell also said she will be visiting Jackson on Friday to better understand what needs to be done next. 

“I can’t speak to the specifics on why it hasn’t been fixed in the past. But what I can say is that under President Biden’s direction, we are bringing in all of the right federal resources to better understand what it is we need to do going forward,” she said. “And that’s what I’m gonna start doing during my visit tomorrow is better understanding what those needs are, to help this community get on that road to recovery.” 

Elise Preston contributed reporting.