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Overlooked during water crisis, Flint's Latino community paid visit by Michigan governor

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Deacon Omar Odette, left, meets with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 in Flint, Mich. Snyder visited the church that's distributing water and filters to its predominantly Latino parishioners. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Deacon Omar Odette, left, meets with Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016 in Flint, Mich. Snyder visited the church that's distributing water and filters to its predominantly Latino parishioners. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder visited a predominately Latino Catholic Church in Flint late last week to reach out to a community that has felt overlooked and isolated during the ongoing water crisis in the Midwestern city.

Snyder, who was on hand at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church – where volunteers were handing out bottled water and filters – sought to reassure concerned parishioners that the state was working to solve the crisis that has drawn national headlines. He also wanted to reassure the Latino community that anyone – no matter their legal status – is entitled to water for bathing and drinking.

“There are a lot of health and safety concerns, and people want all the information out there,” Dave Murray, Snyder’s press secretary told Fox News Latino. “We made a mistake early on, but we’re working to solve the problem and want everyone to get help.”

Reports coming out of Flint last month said that many undocumented immigrants living in the city were afraid to go to water distribution centers after some were turned away for not having a driver's license or valid identification card. There were also widespread reports that many Spanish-speakers in the Flint area were unaware of the crisis because there was little information available in their native language.

Many undocumented immigrants in Flint refused to open their doors to volunteers going house-to-house, because they were afraid they were the target of an immigration raid. Churches began doubling as distribution centers because they were the only places immigrants were comfortable going without fear of deportation.

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Michigan officials are now printing information in Spanish and making a concerted effort to reach out to Flint’s Hispanic community – which make up around 4 percent of its population, according to U.S. Census data. Snyder also promised to help with logistics, water tests and removing any issues that non-English speakers are facing.

“The feeling here is that the governor is very sincere,” Deacon Omar Odette, the pastoral coordinator at Our Lady of Guadalupe told Fox News Latino. “People just want this to stop, they want it fixed.”

The water crisis in Flint came to national attention last month, when it was revealed that the city’s drinking water supply, which had been switched to a different source, wasn't receiving the heavy metals treatment required by law. Between 6,000 and 12,000 children were exposed to drinking water with high levels of lead that could cause serious health problems. The water has also been blamed as a possible cause of an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that has killed 10 people.

As government officials scramble to clean up the water, victims are starting to sue the state, the city, Snyder, rank-and-file public employees and almost anyone else who may have had a role in supplying the troubled city with tainted river water for 18 months. The lawsuits accuse them of violating civil rights, wrecking property values and enriching themselves by selling a contaminated product.

Despite the furor over the water contamination, Odette said that during the meeting with Snyder at Our Lady of Guadalupe, parishioners appeared more concerned than angry.

“The scary part is, we don’t know the answers,” Odette said. “There is a general feeling that something has to get started. There have been a lot of meetings, but not a lot of action is taking place.”

He added: “Putting the blame on someone does not help.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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