Walkerton asks why

The chief medical officer in the Walkerton area says the E. coli outbreak which has killed five people did not have to happen.

Dr. Murray McQuigge says officials at the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission have told his office that the machine that mixes chlorine into the water supply hasn't been working for some time.

People who live in the Walkerton area are anxious, fearful and angry. This morning, Andy Barrie of Metro Morning spoke to two Walkerton residents, James Skarnikat and Brenda Rapp, to get their reaction to this information.

They want to know why they weren't warned at the first sign that something was wrong.

According to local residents, people started getting sick last Wednesday. The first warnings not to drink the water weren't issued until Sunday night, even though the municipality had already started flushing out the system.

Health officials in the Walkerton area fear more people will die from drinking water contaminated with the E. coli bacteria, especially since symptoms can take up to 10 days to appear.

Three children are fighting for their lives in hospital in London. The outlook for them is not good.

"Statistically, we're expecting a couple of more deaths, probably within the next few days," said Dr. Gary Bajurny. "It's kind of scary because there's no good treatment for this. That's the scariest part. It's a hit and miss thing."

As many as 700 people are suffering the symptoms of severe cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Some of those most severely affected were airlifted to a hospital in London, Ont., for treatment.

"There's never been anything like this in Canada before of this magnitude, never," said McQuigge.

David Thomson, mayor of the municipality of Brockton, assured the public the water will not be turned back on until it's completely clear and clean. Free bottled water was being handed out.

The elderly and children are the most vulnerable to the E.coli bacteria. Parents of kids five years of age or younger are being asked to bring them in for tests, even if they show no signs of being sick.

Authorities are advising people in the Walkerton area to boil drinking water for at least five minutes or to drink bottled water.

The province's environment ministry is testing the water supply, trying to determine the source and state of the contamination.

Officials aren't sure how the outbreak started. There was extensive flooding in the area during a heavy rainstorm nearly two weeks ago. It's possible that sewage, or manure from farmers' fields, leaked into the wells that supply water to the area.

E. coli can be fatal in about 3% of cases, and causes kidney damage in 10% of people who become infected.