CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Safe tap water gushed from faucets and shower heads in West Virginia on Monday, a welcome sight and sound for a small fraction of the 300,000 people who have not been able to use running water since a chemical spill on Thursday.
It could still be days before everyone in the Charleston metropolitan area is cleared to use the water, though officials said the water in certain designated areas was safe to drink and wash with as long as people flushed out their systems.
They cautioned that the water may still have a slight licorice-type odor to it, raising the anxieties of some who believed it was still contaminated.
"I'm not going to drink it. I'll shower in it and do dishes in it. But I won't drink it. I don't think it's (the chemical) all out," said Angela Stone, who started the 30-minute or so process of flushing her system out soon after the ban was lifted.
By Monday evening, officials had given the green light to about 15 percent of the customers of West Virginia American Water, and company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said about 25 percent could have water by the end of the day.
The water crisis shuttered schools, restaurants and day-care centers, and truckloads of water had to be brought in from out of state.
People were told to use the water only to flush their toilets.
Officials were lifting the ban in a manner to help ensure the water system was not overwhelmed by excessive demand, which could cause more water quality and service problems.
An online map detailing what areas were cleared showed a small portion in blue and a vast area across nine counties still in the "do not use" red.
The water crisis started Thursday when a chemical used in coal processing leaked from a Freedom Industries plant into the nearby Elk River.
Complaints came in to West Virginia American Water about the odor, and officials discovered the source was the chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol that spilled out of a 40,000-gallon tank. State officials believe about 7,500 gallons leaked.