Vancouver Island town declares emergency after water supply tampered with

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Vancouver Island town declares emergency after water supply tampered with

LADYSMITH, B.C. (CP) - Town officials declared a state of emergency after discovering someone had tampered with the water supply for this Vancouver Island community of 6,400. Residents were warned immediately not to use water from the municipal system for any purpose until further notice, town administrator Gord Horth said Friday.

Samples were taken from the town's reservoir and flown to Vancouver for analysis.

The results of the tests were expected Saturday.

Horth said public works employees discovered Friday morning that the reservoir had been broken into.

Someone had been in the reservoir and opened the hatch and there was an odourless and tasteless slick on the water, he said.

The water looked cloudy, he said.

"It's a pretty heavy duty hatch," Horth said. "Someone put real time and effort into doing that."

The area is tightly secured, surrounded by a fence with razor wire on the top.

Public works director Joe Friesenhan said the individuals knew what they were doing.

Dr. Fred Rockwell, medical health officer for the Central Vancouver Island health region, said there had been no reports Friday of illness related to water.

An advisory was sent to all area physicians, requesting they contact the public health department immediately if they suspect any water-related illness in their patients, he said.

A door-to-door campaign was conducted to warn residents not to use the water for any purpose, including drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning and doing laundry.

Residents were also told not to boil the water and then use it for any purpose.

City crews also drove through the streets, using megaphones to warn residents of the potential danger with the water.

"I think in about 2 hours we covered the whole town so it happened quite quickly," Horth said.

The RCMP is investigating.

By the time the warning was blasted through Ladysmith streets, many people had already had their morning coffee and taken baths and showers.

"I'll be looking for all the people who had showers and baths to see if they glow tonight," said Art Fournier as he had a coffee at his favourite soup and sandwich shop.

He said he wasn't worried by the health scare, but others, especially some young mothers, were scrambling for bottled water and fearful the town's water was toxic.

"I'm pretty much freaking," said Kerri Morris. "Walkerton. That's what I was thinking."

Seven people died after e. coli bacteria infected the water supply in Walkerton, Ont.

Health region spokeswoman Anya Nimmon said the Ladysmith hospital had a good supply of bottled water for drinking and cooking.

Sterile water and a no-rinse solution was being used at the hospital in all medical procedures, she said.

An emergency water distribution plan for shut-ins and people unable to buy water was being organized.

Grocery store manager Pat Battie said Thrifty Foods, Coca Cola, Pepsi and even suppliers for a competitor store delivered water at discounted prices.

Customers poured into Ladysmith Harbourview Grocery, quickly clearing the shelves of all the bottled water, said part-owner Judy Godlonton.

Residents were also snapping up juice and soft drinks as well, she said. "They are really worried because everybody drank the water this morning and had baths."

Carol Sabiston of Canadian Springs Water Co. in Victoria said calls spiked as Ladysmith businesses and residents sought a fresh supply as soon as possible.

In a two-hour span, 75 to 80 calls came in, mainly from Ladysmith, she said.

A driver who had finished his shift made an extra run to Ladysmith with a full truck, which can hold 270 to 300 bottles of water, each holding 18.9 litres, she said.

"People were waving him down on the street," Sabiston said.

"No matter what the result is, people's anxiety levels have been raised quite high," Horth said. "This is quite serious. You take for granted you have a good water supply.

"If it's nothing, we'll have something to talk about for awhile," he said.

"But it gives you pause in terms of what kind of measures you need to put in place. All of your community resources are exposed if someone has an intention to do something quite serious."

http://www.southam.com/ottawacitizen/newsnow/cpfs/national/010728/n072808.html



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), July 28, 2001


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