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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript: West Virginia Chemical Spill


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Clearly, this is a major crisis right now. It's affecting, as we say, 300,000 Americans. They can't use water. They can't use water for anything virtually than flush their toilets. But that's basically about that.

But this is an enormous crisis in West Virginia right now. A lot of people have to leave these areas because there's no water. There's no bottled water that's left either.

Let's talk about what's going on with the West Virginia Governor Earl Tomblin.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

I know that you're over at the water treatment plant behind you right now. How bad is this situation?

GOV. EARL RAY TOMBLIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Well, it's pretty bad. As you mentioned we do have way over 100,000 -- we don't have the exact number yet -- of people who are without water. But, obviously, all the restaurants are closed down. The hotels are having to close down. Schools were out yesterday.

You know, it's just a real inconvenience for the people not being able to use their water with the exception of flushing toilets. So, we're working to put all the state resources we have together. We're doing water tests on an hourly basis and the chemical level is declining, but we're just not sure exactly how long it's going to take until it's acceptable to lift the "do not drink" ban that the West Virginia American Water Company has placed on us.

BLITZER: What happened in this chemical plant, this company Freedom Industries was operating. What happened to cause this nightmare?

TOMBLIN: Well, I'm not sure whether it was just lack of maintenance of the storage tank. There was several thousand gallons of this chemical in the plant. It's estimated that probably at the maximum about 5,000 gallons had leaked out in the tank, as I understand, is very near the Elk River and then obviously after it breached the wall it got into the river and then obviously was sucked into the water plant here. Our Department of Environmental Protection was on the scene yesterday morning when they started getting complaints of the smell of -- or black licorice in the air. They traced it down to this particular chemical company. And that's when they -- told them they had to cease and desist right there and then they had to put a new retaining wall around with pumps, in case rain will come, or the chemical cannot get back into the river.

So, the old tank has been emptied and taken away and as of right now, the company has closed down.

BLITZER: We understand the federal government is coming to aid, some FEMA trucks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I take it they're going to be coming later tonight, around 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. your time. What do you want the federal government, Governor, to do?

TOMBLIN: Well, let me say that I am pleased that the president did sign the emergency declaration yesterday evening after I requested it, and we are receiving FEMA assistance. Most of it right now is in the form of several truck loads of water.

I understand that the water should have been here before, but in traveling here got caught in some bad weather and so slowed it down. However, for several private businesses, both instate and out of state has shipped just truckload after truckload of water. That's the big need right now.

Obviously, as we go on, we're going to start maybe needing wipes and hand sanitizer, baby formula and that sort of thing. But as of right now, I think everyone has enough food, but if anyone wants to make those donations, we're accepting those now. But water has been the big thing. We learned from the Derecho we had a year ago and hurricane Sandy last October, we needed to be prepared.

So, you know, we've been able to handle the emergency much better than we could have before. So, we just appreciate all the help of the donations that so many kind people from around the country are sending us with the trucks of water.

BLITZER: Tell us about Freedom Industries, Governor, this plant, this company that operates this plant that had this disaster that caused this -- does it have a good track record? Is it a subsidiary of another company? What do we know about it?

TOMBLIN: You know, I know very little about it, and I personally have not had any contact with the management of that company. I know that when DEP rolled in yesterday morning, they had to convince them that they needed to get in to take care of this problem.

So, you know, we're still investigating to see what's going on with the company. I do not know of any previous spill or anything like that, but that doesn't mean that that hasn't happened.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to all the folks in West Virginia. We're hoping this is resolved quickly, governor, I'm sure no one hopes it's resolved more quickly than you do. Appreciate you joining us. Good luck.

TOMBLIN: Well, thank you very much, Wolf. We appreciate your concern for us. Thank you.


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