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As President Obama gets ready to travel to Flint, Michigan, on Wednesday, residents hope his visit will shine a light on the nightmare they’ve been living for two years.
“It’s so great he’s coming, it’s long overdue,” said Desiree Duell who hopes the visit sparks some urgency for action.
Laura MacIntyre says she’s still sponge bathing her children and has been continually disappointed by the state response to the water crisis. She hopes the President’s trip will finally bring change.
“Obama could make us a priority,” MacIntyre said.
Obama will visit a Flint food bank, take part in a roundtable discussion of the crisis, meet with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and speak to an estimated 1,000 people at Flint Northwestern High School, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
The city changed its source of water from treated water from Detroit to water from the Flint River in 2013. The river water was high in salts that corroded the plumbing and allowed lead to leach into the water. Flint children soon began turning up with dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, which can cause a variety of health problems, including brain damage.
“It’s been hell,” said Lulu Brezzell, who’s been drinking bottled water and taking two minute showers along with her three children. Her oldest daughter, 8-year-old Amariyanna Copeny, sparked the president’s visit with a letter, where she asked to meet with him.
“It smells like bleach and old fish,” the little girl said of the water she still cannot drink. She’s unsure what she will say if she gets a chance to meet the President in person. Copeny’s mother says the family is still in shock over the visit.
“I’m just going to encourage him to meet with people and hear their stories. It’s one thing to see it on tv than actually be here,” Bruzzell said.
President Obama met with the Weaver at the White House back in January when Weaver was attending the U.S. conference of Mayors. A day later, on Jan. 20, the President traveled to Detroit where he toured the North American Auto Show and gave a speech at the UAW, but didn’t visit Flint.
Several residents tell NBC News that they hope the president will take control away from the state and declare Flint a federal disaster area.
“It cannot be under the state anymore,” MacIntyre said, “We really need to get it to a federal level to get something done.”
Duell agrees and think federal money and oversight is needed.
“Aid and response has been anemic from the state,” she said.
The president signed an emergency disaster declaration in January ordering federal aid to help local efforts because of emergency conditions due to the contaminated water. That declaration is only good for 90 days and has since run out.
A broader declaration was denied because the White House says the law applies only to natural disasters and the water crisis is man-made.
When asked about broadening the federal role at Tuesday’s White House briefing, Earnest said, “There are additional resources that could be used to make some changes to their aging water infrastructure and to provide additional assistance to help the city of Flint recover and rebuild. Unfortunately, we've seen Republicans refuse to embrace that responsibility, and that's unfortunate.”
The Senate worked out a deal a month ago to provide $100 million dollars in grants and loans to Flint but it has not passed because it’s tied up by Senate bureaucracy.
Residents are trying to hold on to hope, but say they are unsure when they will see substantial progress.
In the meantime, for Amariyanna Copeny, or “Little Miss Flint,” she may get a few moments with the Obama. He told student reporters Thursday he’s hoping to get a chance to meet the young lady who wrote to him.
“She wants to meet him and give him a hug and tell him thank you,” Copeny’s mother said.