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Bottled water donations pour into Flint

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Flint — Dozens of semitrailers and moving trucks rolled through the city Monday to deliver 500,000 bottles of water for residents who continue to doubt the quality of their drinking water.

The caravan, which brought water from Detroit through the effort of 30 churches, moved down south Beach Street as a crowd of hundreds gathered for a demonstration at First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Flint’s downtown.

“No Justice! No Peace!” could be heard at the Environmental Justice Rally, which packed in demonstrators with no standing room available. Michigan State Police outside directed traffic as more and more Flint residents drove in to pick up water or hear from speakers, including Mayor Karen Weaver, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, and the special guest of the event, Russell Simmons, recording mogul and CEO of Rush Communications, whose RushCard prepaid debit card company donated 150,000 additional water bottles to the cause.

“We get all these people together to help the town, but we’re late, but it’s better late than never,” Simmons said. “I’m here as your humble servant. I just need direction.”

Simmons was greeted with a standing ovation from the churchgoers.

“Let me say I am deeply humbled to be here to join your struggle, because your struggle is my struggle,” Simmons said.

Another standing ovation came for Hanna-Attisha of Hurley Medical Center. The doctor, who is credited for identifying elevated blood lead levels in the blood of infants and children, began by reiterating that she was there because she was “just doing my job.”

“My job is to take care of that kid in front of me whose there for an ear infection,” she said. “My job is to make sure that every one of our kids has the brightest future possible. What happened here was a disaster on so many levels. If you put something in a population to put them down for many years and decades to come, it would be lead.”

Many from the Baptist church gathered in the cafeteria to help with the bottled water efforts.

Deacon George E. Jones Jr. stood outside looking at the trucks stopping in front of the church.

“This issue is going to go on for many years to come, and we’re here to ensure and help those who can’t care for themselves; that’s what’s really going on here today,” Jones Jr. said.

Flint’s water crisis stems from the city’s switch to Flint River water in April 2014 while under control of an emergency manager. In October, after health officials confirmed elevated levels of lead in the bloodstreams of Flint children, the city switched back to Detroit’s Lake Huron water system.

Lead can cause irreversible brain and developmental damage in children and infants who ingest it through water or lead-based paint. Health officials said its impacts can take years to manifest and require heightened monitoring to identify.