CHARLESTON, W.Va. (KDKA/AP) - Schools and restaurants closed, stores sold out of bottled water, and legislators canceled business after a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston affected about 300,000 people and shut down much of the city and surrounding counties.
KDKA's Ken Rice Reports:
The U.S. attorney in West Virginia says federal authorities are opening an investigation into what caused a chemical spill that tainted a river and shut down much of the state's capital city and surrounding counties.
The federal government joined the state Friday in declaring a disaster. In requesting the federal declaration, state officials said about 100,000 customers, or roughly 300,000 people total, were affected.
U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said in a news release Friday that his office and other agencies will investigate the circumstances surrounding the release and determine what caused it. He says authorities will take whatever action is appropriate based on the evidence found.
The chemical, used in coal processing, spilled from a Freedom Industries plant into the Elk River in Charleston. It sent a smell similar to licorice into the air.
Officials in Charleston are telling people the chemical is not lethal, but they are unsure of effects it could have if ingested.
"I don't know that the water's not safe, but I can't say that it is safe," said Jeff McIntyre, of W. Va. Clean Water.
Officials have ordered people not to drink, cook with or bathe in tap water, forcing people to scramble for bottled water.
How much of the chemical spilled, and the extent of the danger, remains unclear.
"It certainly is scary," said John Law, of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department. "We would encourage people to stay as calm as possible."
KDKA's Kimberly Gill Reports:
A hotel in Huntington is offering free showers for people affected by a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston.
Pullman Plaza general manager Anna Pope says the hotel has set aside several rooms where people can shower. The hotel asks that people bring their own towels and toiletries.
Pope says the hotel also will open its lunch buffet Saturday so people can eat as well as shower. The buffet normally is closed on Saturday.
After the Thursday spill from Freedom Industries hit the river, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin ordered customers of West Virginia American Water in nine counties not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes with tap water.
State officials are still not sure how long the ban will last.
The National Guard will distribute clean water to about 300,000 people who have been told to turn off their taps.
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