Canada

Walkerton water probe team interviews residents

The search for answers in Walkerton, Ont. has moved into a new phase as members of an independent judicial inquiry visited the town for the first time Tuesday.

Their job is to find out how the town's water system was contaminated with the E. coli bacteria more than a month ago.

There have been at least seven confirmed deaths caused by E. coli infection and that number could rise to 21.

About 2,000 people got sick. Some of them are just now beginning to feel healthy again.

Workers are slowly cleaning the town's water system, section by section. The process involves sliding a clean swab, like a giant Q-tip, into a fire hydrant. Minutes later, and several blocks away, years of built up sludge and residue emerge.

"We're not really suspicious that there's E. coli in there," says Wilfred Argue of the Ontario Clean Water Agency, "What we're looking for is any residue, any build-up inside those lines where anything may hide."

Over the next month, every tap and showerhead in every house will be checked, cleaned and disinfected before medical authorities will declare the water safe to drink.

People in Walkerton, like Laurie Knox, get some peace of mind seeing the effort authorities are going to. But Knox still has some lingering concerns.

"They haven't found the source yet. Is it going to come back in? And do they have to do this whole process again?" she asks.

For more than a month, the people of Walkerton have been living with water contaminated by E. coli. Many continue to wonder why, how it happened, and who's responsible.

The answers to those questions could come from the lawyers for a judicial inquiry who have arrived in town to talk to people who live there.

"They are the important people in this tragedy and Justice O'Connor wants to hear from them initially before we start the formal proceedings," said commission counsel Paul Cavalluzzo.

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