UPDATE: Two Kanawha County Schools Dismiss Early Due to Water Concerns, Closed Thursday

By: Cathleen Moxley, Anna Baxter Email
By: Cathleen Moxley, Anna Baxter Email

UPDATE 2/5/14 @ 6:25 p.m.
KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Several people were taken to the hospital, and many others reported feeling sick while water lines were re-flushed at two schools.

Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary let out early Wednesday.

The big question is why the flushing was happening during school hours.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring says it was supposed to start at 6 a.m. and be finished by the time students arrived.

However, it wasn't until third period when a normal school day took a turn for the worst.

Picking her son up from school early, Billinda Chevalier was one of many panicked parents.

“I'm outraged,” Chevalier said.

When she heard that a teacher and a student passed out and had to be taken to the hospital, her first thought was:

“That I needed to get my son out of here as soon as possible,” Chevalier said.

Several other students and teachers reported getting dizzy and having nasal burning while the school board flushed the water lines. The fumes were just too much to handle.

“The science wing of the school started smelling really bad like licorice,” Chevalier’s son, Alexander Chevalier, said.

“We have manpower in the parking lot, manpower in the gym, manpower in the bathrooms, manpower in the central office,” Principal Valery Harper said.

Harper had the tough task of coordinating chaos.

“Everyone was kind of flustered. They were screaming -- they were hollering,” Sarah Basham, a student, said. “They were just wanting to get out of there. Some people were complaining about headaches.”

“Our classroom smelled so bad with licorice, we had to relocate to the other half of the school,” Anand Malhogra, a student, said.

In light of the emergency, students were let out early. Many were still questioning what went wrong.

“As I spoke to the students today, I said 'I wish I knew all the answers. I wish I knew why, but at this time all I can do is do our best to keep you safe.’”

State Superintendent Dr. James Phares says he believes a cook at Midland Trail Elementary was also taken to the hospital.

At last check, nobody was believed to be seriously hurt.

The plan now is to re-flush the lines at both schools, test the water and then wait for the results.

Because those results aren't expected by Thursday, school has already been canceled for both Riverside High and Midland Trail Elementary.

KANAWHA COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Riverside High School and Midland Trail Elementary dismissed early Wednesday due to water issues at the school. Both schools will be closed Thursday.

However, the automated message issued from Kanawha County Schools to announce the schools were dismissing said it was due to "safety precautions."

Maintenance Director Terry Hollingsworth tells WSAZ.com crews started flushing at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and hoped to get finished by the time students arrived, but that didn't happen.

As a precaution, the flushing has been stopped and won't continue until everyone is gone for the day, Hollingsworth said.

The school was asked to flush their lines again after a water main break earlier this week that caused the water at the two schools to turn yellow, according to Hollingsworth. Earlier this week, there were complaints that the chemical MCHM could be smelled at the schools.

Hollingsworth wouldn't confirm if the licorice smell returned at the school during the flushing process Wednesday morning.

However, Principal Valerie Harper tells WSAZ.com several people complained of symptoms related to MCHM. Harper says a teacher passed out at the school and was taken to the hospital. A student also got sick and is being treated at the school, according to Principal Harper.

The principal also tells WSAZ.com several other teachers have complained of symptoms, including burning noses and dizziness.

A health center was set up at Riverside for anyone who felt they needed medical attention.

During a meeting at the state capitol Wednesday, the director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, Dr. Rahul Gupta testified in front of the Joint Water Commission and said Riverside was closed because "they felt the smell was there."

Dr. Gupta also told the committee they've had requests from other schools in the Belle area for further testing of the chemical MCHM.

Cooks have been using bottled water to cook with and students have also been drinking bottled water.

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