Is West Virginia’s anger misplaced?


The Elk River, where a chemical spill was reported last week, flows into the Kanawha River on a pretty winter day in Charleston Tuesday.


Monday night a Detroit Free Press reporter and self-described humorist invoked the wrath of West Virginians everywhere when she tweeted a tasteless incest joke. It was callous and ignorant, especially considering what we’ve been through in the past five days. More than that, it was unoriginal and not funny. Incest jokes are tired. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we?

She proved what I’ve always known about my home state: we don’t let people mess with us. We are fiercely loyal and do not take lightly any use of the stereotypes that people have tried to peg us with. We do not let anyone get away with calling us names, especially when we know they’re not true. I don’t blame anyone for being angry over her words.

But while you’re tweeting at her and her employer, asking for her resignation over something she’s already apologized for and removed, remember the things that matter.

Her words were stupid, to be sure. But no one has gotten physically ill after reading them. No one  has had to stop bathing in and drinking tap water because of what she said. We should be so angry about what happened to our water.

It is not OK. It’s not OK that we don’t know what future harmful effects exposure to the chemical could have. It’s not OK that no one was prepared for this, despite the chemical being stored so close to the water intake. It’s not OK that restaurants lost untold amounts of money when they closed due to a lack of usable water. It’s not OK that my water and that of many others has been deemed “safe” to drink again but I’m still wary of it.

West Virginia, be mad. Be outraged. But keep it focused on the right things.

A few thoughts on West Virginia’s “Aquapocalypse”

If you haven’t heard, several counties in West Virginia are in a state of emergency because of a chemical leak in the Elk River. It got into the water supply of 300,000 people. Until further notice all we can do with the tap water is flush the toilets and put out fires. No drinking, cooking with it, or bathing in it. The water company issued the “do not use” order Thursday. Restaurants and bars have had to close temporarily. (See the Charleston Gazette’s coverage for more details). 


This was the scene at Rite Aid on Charleston’s East End Thursday night when West Virginia American Water issued a “do not use” order on several counties in the region. People rushed to the stores to buy bottled water.


Here are a few thoughts:

1. Let’s keep looking out for our neighbors. I know this goes without saying. West Virginians take care of each other. I’m so thankful for the friends who have offered to help in anyway they can. A friend with clean water let me shower at her place. She also bought bottled water and gave it to a mother of four who couldn’t find any because stores were sold out. People have been quick to post to social media when they see a water distribution site or see a grocery store with a full stock.  Let’s keep finding ways to help each other.

2. West Virginians have a good sense of humor to be dealing with this while making jokes. So much of my Facebook and Twitter feed has been filled with people making light of the situation. There will be time enough to get angry and place blame — and believe me, we should. But right now, a little humor isn’t hurting.

3. Let’s be kind to the national reporters who have descended on this place. As a local reporter here, I’ve always found West Virginia residents to be gracious with me while I’m working on a story. I hope the others from out of town are treated the same way. This may be the only time some of them ever come to West Virginia. I hope they leave with a real impression of what amazing people live here.

4. If nothing else, let this teach us not to take for granted our most precious commodity.