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Winter Weather Exacts Tough Toll On Mississippi

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Much of Mississippi has been hit by freezing weather all week, and parts of that state are still iced over. That's led to power outages, a lack of drinking water and lots of accidents on the road. We have Kobee Vance of Mississippi Public Broadcasting on the line giving us the latest from Jackson. And Kobee, to start, what's it like where you are right now?

KOBEE VANCE, BYLINE: Well, I'm actually one of the lucky ones. I have power, but that's not like most people on my street. Just down the road, my grandparents don't have power, and they live less than a mile away. Across the state, it's been tough. Several hundred thousand Mississippians are without power - have been without power at some point during this week, but it's gotten a bit better recently.

A lot of people haven't been able to leave their homes all week because their driveways and streets are iced over. And that's the main problem where I live. You see, you got to remember, this is the Deep South, a region unaccustomed to dealing with weather like this, not just for drivers, but the infrastructure to handle these extreme temperatures and ice accumulation.

CORNISH: How is this different from what's going on in Texas and what have you been hearing from officials about getting power back?

VANCE: Yeah. So in Texas, they faced what was, like, rolling blackouts because they faced terrible issues with their infrastructure and power plants being overwhelmed. In Mississippi, that hasn't been the same issue. We did have some rolling power outages on Tuesday night, but that was very limited and only a couple hours long.

Our main problem has been power line damage. That's ice on power lines and limbs that have been covered in ice falling on the power lines and even cars that are veering off the road, hitting power poles. That means that there's a lot of work to do block by block for linemen and other workers coming into the state, and that might take a while. And it's not easy. Here's Mara Hartmann of Entergy Mississippi, one of the state's largest power providers, talking about the situation here in Jackson, the state's capital.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARA HARTMANN: Some of it is off road. You need specialized equipment. We have trees down. Those have to be cleared out first. In the metro area, there's a lot of times the lines go behind houses, and we have to get specialized derricks where you can't fit a bucket truck.

CORNISH: I want to follow up on the issue of the water supply. What's the latest on that?

VANCE: Well, Mississippi is a largely rural state, so there can be big distances between homes, and lots of potential problems can crop up for lines between those connections. You know, even here in the metro area, like, areas like Jackson, there's a lot of problems. You see people have either no water or very limited water supplies right now, especially here in the Jackson area. And there's several different reasons for that - and also power outages.

Water pressure has become greatly reduced and that means bacteria can get in the lines. And if that's happening, people have to boil their water. The city's also struggling to produce enough water from the - to fill the tanks. That can be coming from the Ross Barnett Reservoir to - just because that ice is so cold right now. And also, the city needs chemicals to treat the water. And sometimes those come on big trucks that can't drive on the state's interstates right now because the icy roads and hills.

CORNISH: What's the weather outlook at this point?

VANCE: Well, looking (inaudible), things are a bit - things are going to get a bit better. There's a light at the end of the tunnel there. Temperatures are supposed to rise, and workers are supposed to get out there and try to repair lines as much as they can. But there's still going to be a lot of difficulty getting into those difficult-to-reach spaces to help make those repairs and get Mississippians back online. We're not out of the woods yet.

CORNISH: That's Kobee Vance with Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

Thank you for reporting during this hardship.

VANCE: Thank you all for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.