CHARLESTON, W.Va., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- People living around Charleston, W.Va., were able to pick up clean water trucked in by the federal government Saturday, officials said.
The Department of Homeland Security dispatched 16 large trucks to the area where a leaking storage tank fouled the area's water supply earlier this week.
The shipment is the first of 75 truckloads of bottled water Washington will be shipping into the area where thousands of residents have been unable to drink the water that comes from the polluted Elk River.
The chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is used in the coal industry, was discovered in the river on Thursday when people reported an odd licorice smell. The chemical quickly turned up in a water-treatment plant that serves Charleston and its suburbs.
Residents were ordered not to drink the water from their taps or use it for washing or bathing. The result was the closures of school, restaurants and hotels. Hospitals canceled surgical procedures en masse and there was a run on canned food and bottled water at area supermarkets.
"It has caused us more problems than you could ever imagine," Mayor Danny Jones said Friday night.
No serious health problems were reported; however worried residents created a brisk business at area emergency rooms. "Our emergency rooms have been very busy with individuals unnecessarily concerned and presenting no symptoms," Charleston Area Medical Center said in a written statement.
CNN said a kidney patient already has filed a lawsuit against the water-treatment company and the owners of the leaking tank of the cancellation of his transplant surgery.
Charleston-area officials had said as many as 300,000 people were effected by the water shutoff; however Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said late Friday the latest estimate was "way over 100,000 [but] we don't have an exact number yet of people ... without water."
Tomblin said the levels of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol in the river appeared to be declining; however there was no estimate as to when the river water would be safe.
West Virginia wildlife officials were also watching the Elk for signs that its fish were being killed off. The good news was no indication of a massive die-off, MetroNews said.
State biologist Jeff Hansbarger told MetroNews the cold winter weather likely prompted fish to hang around the river bottom while the lighter chemical remained near the surface. "That could maybe lend itself to not being quite as harmful for the fish," he said.