Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has activated the Michigan National Guard to aid water distribution efforts in Flint and is requesting support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Late Tuesday, the governor issued an executive order to activate the National Guard, the state's latest step in an effort to provide relief to Flint residents exposed to contaminated drinking water.
“As we work to ensure that all Flint residents have access to clean and safe drinking water, we are providing them with the direct assistance they need in order to stretch our resources further,” Snyder said in a statement. “The Michigan National Guard is trained and ready to assist the citizens of Flint.”
Separately, the Snyder administration is asking FEMA to coordinate an “interagency recovery plan” with other federal agencies to provide resources and expertise that could be utilized in Flint’s water emergency.
Snyder’s office said it is asking FEMA to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Army Corps of Engineers.
“FEMA has approved Gov. Snyder’s request for assistance and has appointed a Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator to support the state,” FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre said in a late Tuesday tweet.
National Guard members are expected to arrive in Flint as soon as Wednesday, with additional members arriving by Friday, Snyder Dave Murray spokesman said.
Their presence will allow American Red Cross volunteers who had been staffing water resource sites to join door-to-door efforts to distribute water filters, bottled water and testing kits, Murray said.
Snyder last week declared a state of emergency in Flint and has since ramped up aid efforts.
The decision comes after about 45 Michigan State Police troopers and other state workers began Tuesday distributing water and filters to residents without them because of the lead poisoning crisis that has put Flint in the national spotlight and even drawn comments from the White House.
Scores of volunteers with the state’s department of Health and Human Services along with troopers and Genesee County sheriff’s deputies fanned out into 18-degree temps and snowfall to reach residents in north central Flint.
State police said Monday they thought it would take weeks to reach nearly 33,000 Flint homes with water and filters. Activating the National Guard seems intended to shorten the time period.
Snyder last activated the National Guard for the Duck Lake fire in the Upper Peninsula in May 2012. He has deployed the National Guard twice.
Flint, operating under a state-appointed emergency manager at the time, began using the Flint River for drinking water in April 2014 after disconnecting from the Detroit water system’s Lake Huron. Residents immediately complained about the taste, odor and discoloration.
Independent scientists eventually discovered high levels of lead in the water, and the state health department confirmed the findings Oct. 1. Flint was reconnected to the Detroit water system in mid-October, but state officials said this week the city’s drinking water still is not considered safe.
FEMA, acting on a request from Michigan State Police Capt. Chris A. Kelenske, had sent two liaisons Thursday to the state’s Emergency Operations Center and another staffer Saturday, a spokesman told The Detroit News.
“We stand ready to support the state with additional technical staff, if requested,” FEMA spokesman Mark Peterson said in an email earlier Tuesday.
Snyder has faced criticism for his initial response to the crisis.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said he welcomed the Republican governor’s deployment of the Michigan National Guard, but said, “Flint needs more action and less talk from Gov. Snyder.”
“At the State of the Union tonight, I spoke to President Obama and reiterated my call for federal assistance due to the lack of a sufficient response from the state,” Kildee said in a late Tuesday statement. “I will continue to do everything I can to get immediate resources to help address this ongoing crisis.”