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Obama signs emergency order over Flint water

The declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide water, filters, cartridges, and other items to Flint residents for 90 days.

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Michigan National Guard Staff Sergeant William Phillips assists a Flint resident with bottled water at a fire station in the city. President Obama declared a state of emergency in Michigan on Saturday.

Rebecca Cook/Reuters

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President Obama signed an emergency declaration Saturday for Flint, Mich., that clears the way for federal aid for the city, which is undergoing a drinking water crisis.

The White House issued a release calling for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts to "alleviate the hardship and suffering" on residents. Flint switched water supplies in 2014, and the corrosive water from the Flint River leached lead from old pipes.

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FEMA has been authorized to provide water, filters, cartridges, and other items for 90 days. Direct federal funding also will be made available.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder requested the declaration late Thursday, saying needs "far exceed the state's capability," and added that emergency measures could cost $41 million. His letter to Mr. Obama painted a bleak picture of the troubled city, describing Flint as an "impoverished area" that has been overwhelmed by the release of lead from old pipes.

The tap water in Flint, population 99,000, became contaminated after the city switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River while a pipeline to Lake Huron is under construction. The corrosive water lacked adequate treatment and caused lead to leach from old pipes in homes and schools.

Flint returned to the Detroit system in October after elevated lead levels were discovered in children, and could tap into the new pipeline by summer.

But officials remain concerned that damaged pipes could continue to leach lead, to which exposure can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children as well as kidney ailments in adults.

The National Guard has been distributing free water, filters, and other supplies.

Members of Michigan's congressional delegation applauded the move. Democratic US Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she will push for long-term resources, and Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee said residents "deserve every resource available to make sure they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible man-made disaster created by the state."