Brad Vest/Getty Security personnel outside the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plan in Jackson, Miss.
Residents of Jackson, Miss., are currently battling through a water crisis that one woman says "has been building for decades." Having children at home makes it even more difficult.
Mom Brooke Floyd, 43, tells PEOPLE that many of her fellow Jackson residents are both "angry and frustrated" after being left without reliable running water for more than a month.
Jackson has been under a boil water order for over 30 days due to issues with the water system, which has left some residents with little to no water at all. The problem was exacerbated by the recent flooding of the Pearl River, which resulted in a temporary decrease in water production across the city.
Deneka Samuel, a mom of six children ages 4 to 19, says it can be challenging at times during the crisis, and is hoping to see improvement soon.
"It's hard and it's a struggle, but we're going to keep on and keep on and keep on fighting," she tells PEOPLE.
Brad Vest/Getty Locals help distribute bottles of water in Mississippi
The water went completely out on Monday, according to Floyd, a mother of four, including 6-year-old twins. "We turned on the faucets and there wasn't any water," she says, explaining that it's since come back sporadically.
What water has been coming into Samuel's house has been brown, leaving her in a constant cleaning frenzy to ensure her kids aren't coming in contact with it. "I have to make sure I keep my house sanitized," she says. "I clean up every day so there won't be [any] bacteria or germs. And I have to watch my kids closely so they don't touch the water in the sink and get sick."
Basic tasks like cooking, bathing or even going to the bathroom have become massive chores for Samuel. She cooks and has everyone brush their teeth with bottled water and uses jugs of water to fill the toilet before flushing (toilet paper, she says, goes in a bag for worries of the pipes backing up).
When it comes to hygiene, Samuel said she adds bleach to the brown water to help destroy the germs. "I have to bathe my kids, there's no way around it," she says. "So I just pray. I put that Clorox in that tub and when they get out, I pray, I grease them down and pray over our flesh."
"It is a struggle each and every day," Samuel adds. "I be like, "Oh my... It can't get no worse, Jesus. [It's] just got to get better.' "
Floyd had been boiling the water in her house since Aug. 1, after high turbidity levels were found in her supply. But after the recent flooding, the water that was coming in wasn't clear even after being boiled.
"They're saying it's okay, but it's brown and even after you boil it, there's still stuff floating in it," she says to PEOPLE. "So, I mean, yeah, you can boil it, but I'm not going to use it to wash my dishes. And I'm definitely not going to use it to cook with."
Like many are known to do in a water crisis, when it comes to bath time, she fills the tub with water and has been giving her kids light baths with that. Afterwards, she washes them down with bottled water.
Both women have also been doing their part to give back, handing out cases of water to those in need. This is especially important for Floyd, who says some areas have been limiting the amount of water given out — a problem for everyone from larger families, to the elderly, to new moms who have also been battling the nationwide formula shortage.
"I really love my community, and I love all of my people," says Samuel. "It doesn't matter what race, color, nothing — I'm here to give back 'cause we in need."
Michael M. Santiago/Getty City of Jackson workers make repairs at the site of a water main break in March 2021
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Jackson has a history of problems with its water system dating back decades. Cassandra Welchin, executive director of the Mississippi Black Women's Round Table, tells PEOPLE it's an issue that has plagued the city for "over 50 years now."
But the issue is much more significant than being able to fill up a glass of water at the sink. It's impacting residents' day-to-day life in various ways, from brushing teeth and showering to cooking and childcare.
"So it is a huge inconvenience, but it's an economic impact on families particularly when we talk about the state of Mississippi who's living in poverty," Welchin says.
Brad Vest/Getty Members of the National Guard hand out bottled water in Mississippi
Among the issues, she notes, is the lack of accessibility to affordable food. Meals at school, for instance, may be the only meal that children receive.
Jackson Public Schools has shut down temporarily amid the water crisis, but has been offering meals to students and families while classes are virtual, according to its Facebook page. "It's also a safety net and a childcare place for families so that these families can go to work," Welchin adds.
But currently, many residents "feel forgotten," according to Floyd. She tells PEOPLE that hopes that will change.
"Don't forget us," Floyd says of Jackson, a city where 80% of residents are Black. "People right now are angry and frustrated, and they feel forgotten. And we just want people to know that."
"Mississippi matters," she adds. "The people in this city matter, and we deserve to have clean drinking water, and we deserve to thrive and live, just like everyone else in the United States does."