Ariana Hawk heated a bowl of distilled water in the microwave, dipped a washcloth in it and wiped her 2-year-old son’s itchy, irritated skin.
She said she has been cleaning Sincere Smith’s body this way — or with wet wipes — since last summer, because the boy’s doctor doesn’t want him bathing in the tap water at their Flint home.
“I can’t afford to go buy 20 gallons of water just to bathe him one time,” said Hawk, a 25-year-old single mother of three who is pregnant.
Sincere has rough patches of skin on his legs, arms and face, the mother explained, adding that his skin condition started with a rash on his stomach after Flint switched its water supply source from Lake Huron to the more polluted Flint River in April 2014 while under control of a state-appointed emergency manager.
Hawk blames the water for her middle child’s suffering.
“We get treated like … we don’t matter,” she said. “That’s how it’s been feeling.”
Residents across Flint echo her frustration.
People, pets, even plants have been affected by the poisonous, lead-contaminated water, they said.
Community members feel betrayed, worried, angry, sad and stressed and are bracing for what will happen next in Flint, a city with 99,000 residents, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.
The city has seen a spike in the levels of lead in children’s blood.
Kids have been exposed to lead if they drank Flint water since April 2014, health officials said.
“I love my kids,” said Pamela Battle. “I want them to grow up like I grew up … wasn’t no worries about no water.”
Battle, whose seven children range in age from 1 to 16, said she finally got a water filter. Before that, she was using water from her faucet to cook, make Kool-Aid and put it in bottles for her two youngest children.
Battle said she has no choice but to stay in Flint with her children and live with the water crisis. Others have had enough and plan to leave.
Kerry Wheeler, 45, said she, her 11-year-old daughter and their dog are moving out to escape the water situation.
The active dog had become lethargic last fall, wouldn’t eat and started vomiting. Wheeler took the 10-year-old boxer named Beast to the veterinarian and was told to give him bottled water.
“Once I switched him to bottled water, he perked right back up after a couple days,” she said.
Water in her home has varied from clear or cloudy to brown or yellow.
“Nobody should have to be living like this,” Wheeler said.
Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency Jan. 5. State efforts were ramped up to get free bottled water, filters, replacement cartridges and water testing kits in the hands of Flint residents.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a federal emergency in Flint.
Throughout last week, people lined up to pick up free water and filters at fire stations, and more free supplies have been passed out door-to-door by Michigan State Police troopers, volunteers and others.
The state helped the city move its source of water back to Lake Huron water supplied by Detroit in October, but concerns about contamination remain because the Flint River water damaged pipes and other infrastructure.
Snyder has repeatedly apologized for the state’s role in the water crisis, but many say he still hasn’t done enough.
“That apology ain’t going to help these kids,” said Hawk. “That apology’s not going to help the families that’s suffering.”
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said the ultimate solution is to fix the infrastructure and provide long-term help for all of the people impacted in the city where public trust has been shattered.
“We didn’t deserve to be in this position, in this situation,” she said. “And what happened here in Flint should never happen to any community.”
Flint’s water situation has spread to the political realm, where the governor responded Monday to being admonished by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during Sunday’s Democratic debate. Clinton said that “every single American should be outraged” by the water crisis, adding that “if the kids in a rich suburb of Detroit had been drinking contaminated water and being bathed in it, there would have been action.”
Following a speaking engagement Monday at a Martin Luther King Day event in Flint, the Republican governor said Clinton’s tactic doesn’t help solve the problem.
With so many in need of clean water in Flint, churches and organizations have turned into water stations, taking donations from people across the metro Detroit area and the country and distributing bottled water.
Carl Hunter, dressed in a winter coat, gloves and hat, trekked through the bitter cold and snow with a case of water on his head after leaving the North End Soup Kitchen, where water was given away.
“The water crisis is bad,” the 48-year-old Flint man said, walking to his home about a mile away with 28 bottles of water.
“I think everybody in Flint is scared,” said Gloria Waite, who said she is thankful her water comes from a well.
Paul Lewis, 65, switched his family to bottled water more than a year ago, but continued to use tap water for his plants. They turned brown and died.
“I just realized it was the water that I was putting on them,” he said.
The retired truck driver and his family use bottled water for everything except bathing.
As he loaded up 10 cases of water during a trip to Wal-Mart, a man at the store said, “You can sure tell when people live in Flint.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.