WaterStep brings clean water to communities in North Carolina

ATKINSON, NC (Press Release) — The plea came from a six-year-old and her mother in a North Carolina McDonald’s over breakfast: Hurricane Florence had inundated their small town and contaminated rural water supplies. Many needed safe water to drink.

That chance meeting with a WaterStep disaster response team in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence led founder Mark Hogg to divert to the small, hard-hit town of Atkinson, N.C., where they set up water chlorinators and bleach makers to provide safe water to local residents.

“God knew that we needed help,” said Mayor Kenneth Smith, who is also a Baptist minister and has been visiting rural areas outside town in need of drinking water. “Because of the folks from Kentucky, we’re able to fill the need that’s out here.”

Since Hurricane Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. on Sept . 14, record flooding has hit in the Carolinas, impacting homes and businesses and comprising water supplies including in rural areas where residents rely on wells. While flooding is receding in Atkinson, the fallout is still being felt, Smith said.

WaterStep, which typically responds in developing countries such as Haiti or Philippines, left Louisville Sept. 23rd with a truck packed with ten disaster relief kits, able to purify water and generate chlorine and bleach. WaterStep first set up two water purification systems in Sneads Ferry, about 45 miles north of Wilmington, making contaminated water safe for drinking and bathing.

The systems will stay with a community organization in Sneads Ferry for future use in the event of another disaster.

WaterStep was then headed to aid rural towns suffering from numerous water issues when they had their chance meeting with a young woman at McDonald’s.

“Our town was an island for about a week, and were finally able to get out, so I was buying my daughter some pancakes. She just struck up and conversation,” Rebecca Guthke said of her daughter, Victoria.

The pair told them the area, near the swollen Cape Fear and Black rivers, had been cut off by floodwaters and that wells in surrounding areas were contaminated. Coast Guard helicopters had earlier visited to evacuate some and bring help.

With roads now passable, the team set up as a disaster response center, setting up a large purification system in a nearby cafeteria located close to the town hall.

Water purification training was provided throughout the day, and chlorine generators and bleachmakers were given out including to emergency management officials. WaterStep also set up a bleach station at the church’s disaster response center for cleaning.

“We left lots of equipment with the church, firefighters and leaders of the community. We set up a 500 gallon tank full of safe water with a distribution manifold system at the town hall,” WaterStep’s Lynn Smith said. “All this was able to happen because a six-year-old old little girl said “hi” to a stranger at McDonald’s.”

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