Walkerton residents try to heal and forgive

Some residents of Walkerton turned to their faith Sunday to find solace amid the anger and sorrow they feel as they cope with the worst E. coli outbreak in Canadian history.

Rev. Suzanne Hollands of St. Thomas Anglican Church urged her congregation to keep the faith and suggested they shouldn't point fingers.

"Somebody messed up," Hollands said. "But we all make mistakes, even mistakes that cause death. There is so much pain, but we know we all have to stick together."

Hollands asked them to pray for Stan Koebel, the general manager of the Public Utilities Commission who hasn't been seen in public since the first deaths were reported.

Many residents in the town of 5,000 have expressed concern for his well-being.

Also on Sunday, Prime Minister Chretien offered his condolences to the southern Ontario town, where five people have died from drinking water contaminated with E. coli.

The prime minister said residents are showing solidarity and courage during a very sad time. And he said it's important to make sure that this kind of tragedy doesn't happen again.

About 1,000 people have been infected. Those who remain in hospital include at least five children who are on kidney dialysis.

Officials believe the bacteria was swept into the town's water supply during heavy rains two weeks ago perhaps from cattle manure in nearby fields.

But a company that used to test Walkerton's water supply says there was evidence of a problem four months before the E. coli outbreak.

The president of GAP EnviroMicrobial Services, Garry Palmateer, says that a test done in January turned up evidence of coliform an indication that surface water was seeping into the well water.

Palmateer says that subsequent tests showed coliform. He says his company notified the Ministry of Environment about the problem five times.

His company got out of the water testing business at the beginning of this month, and therefore did not test for the E. coli that led to so many people getting sick in Walkerton.

The local medical health office has accused the Public Utility Commission of not passing on lab results that confirmed the water was contaminated with E. coli.

Crews have been flushing and disinfecting the town's water system in an attempt to purge the area of the bacteria.

It could be at least another week before tap water is declared safe to drink in the town, which is 200 kilometres northwest of Toronto.

E. coli is fatal in about three per cent of cases. It causes kidney damage in 10 per cent of people who become infected.