Days after a broken water main left more than 100,000 people and two dozen schools with low water pressure or no water for more than 24 hours, southern Fulton County had largely returned to normal.
Even as water flowed again Wednesday and a boil water advisory was lifted just after 8 a.m. Thursday, many officials and residents were left with a sense that they didn’t get enough information during the crisis that spanned four days after a joint on a 30-inch transmission line came loose. The water issues affected residents in Union City, Fairburn, Chattahoochee Hills, South Fulton and Atlanta.
Fairburn Mayor Elizabeth Carr-Hurst said Tuesday, during the first full day of the crisis, that she was displeased with what she described as a lack of communication. Carr-Hurst said Atlanta’s watershed management department, which provides water service in her city, hadn’t provided any updates, despite repeated efforts to learn more.
“We’ve had to keep calling and keep calling and keep calling ... not really getting any information,” she said.
Locals were also looking for information, and Carr-Hurst said Fairburn’s city hall got so many calls that the general office phone line crashed. Even if it hadn’t, the city didn’t have the answers from Atlanta to give to its residents.
Parents also found themselves with unreturned phone calls, this time from the school system.
When the water pressure at Evoline C. West Elementary school was so low toilets didn’t flush, Sharon Russ called a slew of Fulton schools officials.
“No response from anyone,” Russ said. “We need better communication, and earlier.”
A spokesperson for the Fulton County Schools did not respond Wednesday and Thursday to a reporter’s requests for comment about communications. Rukiya Campbell, a spokesperson for Atlanta’s watershed management department, said in an email Wednesday that the department has a number of methods of communication it uses, including robocalls, text messages, email blasts, website updates, social media blasts and contact through the media.
She did not respond to follow-up questions Wednesday nor Thursday asking whether the department prioritizes communication from elected officials or others who can help spread the word.
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Some cities said they were happy with the responses from Atlanta. Ashley Minter-Osanyinbi, a city of South Fulton spokesperson, said Atlanta “has promptly communicated the details of the water main break.” Greg Brett, the Chattahoochee Hills fire chief, said he’d been in communication via text message with watershed representatives beginning less than an hour and a half after the break at 1 p.m. Monday.
“I feel like I pretty well know what I needed to know,” Brett said.
The boil advisory that remained in effect Wednesday was still “a little challenge for some folks,” Union City Mayor Vince Williams said. But the bigger issue is the infrastructure challenge the metro Atlanta core faces. The break, which took more than 24 hours to repair, comes nearly a year after a water main break in Doraville affected water pressure in DeKalb County for more than two days. In December, parts of Midtown were without were without water and under a boil water advisory after an issue at the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant.
This week, four Atlanta Public Schools schools were under the boil-water advisory Tuesday and Wednesday: Therrell High School, Bunche Middle School, Deerwood Academy and Kimberly Elementary School. That’s in addition to the two dozen Fulton County Schools that were subject to the advisory. A Tuesday night statement from the Fulton County School district said at one school where there was no water, Campbell Elementary School, students had been moved to Palmetto Elementary School.
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The district came under fire from some parents for keeping schools open, but Chief Academic Officer Cliff Jones said in a statement that the district wanted to have a safe place for students to go that had heat, food and supervision.
Still, some parents complained that the rationale was inconsistent: schools canceled after-school programs because of the water outage, and in at least one case gave less than an hour’s notice to parents who had to make other arrangements for their children.
Staff writer Vanessa McCray contributed to this story
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