Residents of a large swath of northwestern Ohio are still without drinkable water after a dangerous toxin was discovered late Friday in an area water treatment plant.
Hours after news of the contamination surfaced, Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency for Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties and deployed the National Guard to get water to the area. He pledged that state agencies were working to bring water and other supplies to areas around Toledo while also assisting hospitals and other businesses impacted. The state also was making plans to make more deliveries if the water problem lingered, he said.
"What's more important than water? Water's about life," Kasich said. "We know it's difficult. We know it's frustrating."
The governor said it was too early to say how long the water advisory will last or what caused toxins to spike suddenly in the drinking water.
"We don't really want to speculate on this," Kasich told The Associated Press. "When it comes to this water, we've got be very careful."
Samples of water were flown to the federal and state Environmental Protection Agency offices in Cincinnati and Columbus and a university in Michigan for additional testing, officials said.
News of the contaminated water touched off a shopping frenzy at area stores for bottled water and bags of ice. Shelves were emptied of bottles and other water supplies, as residents prepared for the worst. Stores in cities up to 50 miles away were reporting shortages of bottled water.
"It looked like Black Friday," said Aundrea Simmons, who stood in a line of about 50 people at a pharmacy before buying four cases of water.
"First and foremost, residents must remain calm," Toledo Mayor Michael Collins said at a morning press conference.
Toledo officials issued the warning early Saturday after tests at the city's Collins Park Water Treatment Plant showed two sample readings for microcystin above the standard for consumption. The plant provides treatment services to an area of approximately 400,000 people across 100 square miles, according to The Toledo Blade.
Officials said the water is not for drinking or cooking but healthy adults could still use the water for bathing. They warned children not to bathe or swim in it, as they might drink the water accidentally. Residents were warned not to boil the water because it will only increase the toxin's concentration. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and upset stomach.
In a news release, the city of Toledo said the toxins likely came from harmful algae blooms in nearby Lake Erie.
"These organisms are capable of producing a number of toxins that may pose a risk to human and animal health," the release said.
Area zoos and restaurants closed, and the University of Toledo announced it will be closed Saturday and all non-health-care functions canceled. Toledo Lucas-County Public Libraries also announced closings.
Collins said the city hoped to know Saturday night how long the warning will stay in place, and he pleaded with residents not to panic. There were no reports yet of people becoming sick from drinking the water, Collins said.
Meanwhile, other municipalities were making their own arrangements. Luna Pier, Mich., officials were making plans to funnel water from Monroe Township, according to the Free Press. Fire trucks will pick up the water and residents will be able to fill water bottles after noon Saturday.
Operators of water plants all along Lake Erie, which supplies drinking water for 11 million people, have been concerned over the last few years about toxins fouling their supplies.
Almost a year ago, one township just east of Toledo told its 2,000 residents not to drink or use the water coming from their taps. That was believed to be the first time a city has banned residents from using the water because of toxins from algae in the lake.
Most water treatment plants along the western Lake Erie shoreline treat their water to combat the algae. Toledo spent about $4 million last year on chemicals to treat its water and combat the toxins.
Contributing: Associated Press