Restaurants and shops were reopening on Sunday in parts of West Virginia where the water supply was poisoned by a chemical spill, although up to 300,000 people spent a fourth day unable to use tap water for anything besides flushing toilets.
State government officials, the utility company West Virginia American Water and the National Guard were continuing to test the water supply on Sunday after as much as 7,500 gallons of an industrial chemical leaked into the Elk River on Thursday.
It could still be several days before people in nine counties and Charleston, the state capital and largest city, can once again use the water from their faucets for drinking, cooking and bathing.
A dozen restaurants in Charleston had been allowed to reopen by Sunday afternoon by the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department after assuring officials that they have secured a source of potable water.
“It feels very expensive,” said Keeley Steele, who bought hundreds of bottles of water in order to reopen her comfort-food restaurant, the Bluegrass Kitchen, in Charleston on Sunday. “This is all coming at such a huge cost.”
Nearly 200 groceries, supermarkets and drugstores also have been allowed to reopen across the affected area. Hotels were allowed to continue operating as long as they steer clear of using tap water, although several hotel owners said they were only honoring existing reservations to reduce the expense of shipping out linens for cleaning.
Officials have so far declined to estimate the economic cost of the spill.
Frustrations, however, continue to mount, with West Virginians lamenting the toll the outage has taken on their health and personal hygiene.
The emergency began last week after a spillage from a tank belonging to Freedom Industries, a Charleston company that makes chemicals for the mining, steel and cement industries, authorities said.
The spill happened about a mile upriver from a West Virginia American Water treatment plant. President Barack Obama declared it an emergency, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent dozens of tractor trailers loaded with clean water.