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Obama Visits Flint to Review Water Crisis, US Aid

  • Lou Lorscheider

U.S. Rep.Brenda Lawrence, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Gov. Rick Snyder greet President Obama as he arrives at the Bishop International Airport in Air Force One for a visit to Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., May 4, 2016.

U.S. Rep.Brenda Lawrence, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Gov. Rick Snyder greet President Obama as he arrives at the Bishop International Airport in Air Force One for a visit to Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., May 4, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Flint, Michigan, Wednesday to review federal and state progress in ending the city's contaminated water crisis.

Obama was greeted by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, who has come under withering criticism from locals, as well as federal officials, lawmakers and civil rights activists for what is widely seen as negligence in addressing the year-long crisis.

The White House said the visit was prompted by a recent letter from an eight-year-old local girl who asked to meet with the president personally to discuss the crisis. Amariyanna "Mari" Copeny is one of an estimated 100,000 Flint residents without reliable access to safe drinking and bathing water since the crisis began.

The Flint crisis erupted in 2014, when the cash-strapped city government sought to save money by drawing water from a local river rather that nearby Detroit's water system.

FILE - Mari Copeny, 8, of Flint, Michigan, wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, asking to speak with him personally about the water crisis.

FILE - Mari Copeny, 8, of Flint, Michigan, wrote a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, asking to speak with him personally about the water crisis.

Months later, it was found that engineers did not properly treat the corrosive Flint river water to prevent lead leaching from old pipes in the largely African-American city. The uproar intensified when it was learned that Flint residents were not informed about their tainted water supply for 18 months.

The Obama visit comes eight days after U.S. senators from both political parties reached a tentative deal to authorize $170 million in aid to replace the city's contaminated water pipes and other infrastructure. An election year deal to help the city in February — part of a larger water resources bill — failed when Republican and Democratic negotiators could not agree on how to fund the Flint aid.

Watch video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke:

Crisis assistance

In a lengthy statement Tuesday, the White House said the administration will continue to offer expertise and technical assistance to state and local agencies for as long as needed.

In a priority list, the statement said the president has directed federal housing officials to ensure continued access to clean water for seniors and disabled residents of public housing. It also said efforts are underway to make blood lead testing available to as many children and other residents as possible.

The statement additionally promises continued support for a state probe of rashes and other skin lesions reported by locals. It also says Medicaid coverage has been extended to cover 15,000 children and young people up to age 21, as well as pregnant women affected by the crisis.

FILE - A nurse draws a blood sample from a student at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 26, 2016. Students at the school were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city's drinking water.

FILE - A nurse draws a blood sample from a student at Eisenhower Elementary School in Flint, Michigan, Jan. 26, 2016. Students at the school were being tested for lead after the metal was found in the city's drinking water.

It further touts a host of measures aimed at ensuring nutritional and behavioral health for affected citizens, and encourages locals to run bath and tap water for 14 straight days this month to help flush existing water pipes.

Criminal charges

Three Michigan government officials with ties to the crisis were charged with criminal offenses late last month, and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette warned that more people face potential prosecutions.

Analysts say the probe may focus on officials believed to have largely discounted early citizen complaints about the color, taste and odor of their fresh water supplies.

Asked whether he personally did anything criminal before or during the crisis, Snyder told reporters last month he did not want to enter into such speculation.

"I don't believe so," he said.

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