FLINT, Mich. — In the parking lot of Fire Station No. 1, Katalina Crawford brings her older sedan to a crawl and waits to show her driver’s license in exchange for a case of bottled drinking water.
It’s a routine the 61-year-old cancer survivor has repeated every third day for the past two weeks since Michigan emergency managers began providing Flint’s 99,000 residents with free bottled water.
An unknown number of children and other residents have been poisoned by lead in Flint’s drinking water since the city — acting on the order of state managers — began drawing its water from the Flint River 18 months ago without adding corrosion-control chemicals. Authorities switched back to Detroit municipal water in October 2015 but fear pipes and fixtures may still be tainted.
Government officials, including Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, have been chastised for downplaying the Flint water issue while it worsened.
On Friday, an advisory panel to the governor recommended steps the state should take to restore the city’s reliable drinking water, including hiring an unbiased third party to declare when the system is free of lead.
“I’m not going to trust the water for a long time,” Crawford said at one of five sites set up for citizens to pick up free bottled water, faucet filters and lead-testing kits.
The line of cars behind Crawford’s was more than a dozen deep early Friday afternoon. Among them, Allen Parker, a 45-year-old father of three kids, ages 4, 14 and 16.
“I’m shocked that they let something like this happen when they could’ve prevented it,” said Parker, a lifelong Flint resident. “I can’t let it frustrate me because I don’t have control over it, you know what I mean? I’d be more frustrated if it had an adverse effect on my loved ones. I’m praying that that doesn’t happen — so far they seem to be OK.”
Residents are allowed to pick up one case of bottled water per household each day at the emergency distribution sites. As of Thursday night, approximately 105,000 cases of water, 79,000 filters and 21,000 lead-testing kits had been provided since Jan. 9, according to State Police Special 1st Lt. David Kaiser.
After checking Parker’s ID, a National Guardsman put the father’s daily ration in the front seat of his Kia.
“The baby drinks bottled water but she does have to bathe in it,” Parker said of his 4-year-old. “She’s had maybe a small bump or two and we wonder, is it from, you know, the drinking water?”
Parker appreciates the state’s help but is also frustrated by the unknown.
“I’m glad they’re finally trying to accommodate us,” he said. “It’s a pacifier. But how long will we have to do this? From my understanding it’s not a situation that’s gonna be solved overnight. I’m sure it’s gonna take its toll on me. And I’m hoping they come up with some type of filtration system, at least for the showering too.”
The Associated Press and Yahoo News’ Jason Sickles contributed to this report.