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Finding a laugh in the 'Aquapocalypse'

Kenny Kemp
East Coast Tees T-shirt artist and designer Dave Harrison holds up an "Aquapocalypse Now" shirt. Harrison designed the shirt in response to the comments he read about the chemical leak and water crisis in the area.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Almost as soon as West Virginia American Water called for 300,000 West Virginia residents in nine counties to stop drinking, bathing, washing or cooking with their tap water, some on Facebook began calling the environmental crisis things like "Aquageddon" or "The Aquapocalypse."

That's what T-shirt designer Dave Harrison woke up to when he crawled out of bed Jan. 10, the morning after the water ban began.

Harrison, who designs shirts for East Coast Tees in South Charleston, said, "I got up Friday morning and was just going through my usual routine, looking at what people were saying. I saw that phrase 'Aquapocalypse' turn up a couple places -- just a throw away kind of line."

The 51-year-old South Hills resident said it got him thinking.

"I've been doing this for so long, you just sort of automatically look for things you can play off of," he said.

Comments about the strange, but familiar candy smell in the air cinched it.

Between the newly minted word and the smell, he instantly thought of the classic film, "Apocalypse Now."

"It's one of my favorite movies of all time," Harrison said.

On a black T-shirt under the logo of a dripping tap and the words "Aquapocalypse Now," he re-worked Robert Duvall's famous line, "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning" and turned it into, "I love the smell of licorice in the morning."

Before he was dressed, he had his idea. Before breakfast, he had a design, and by afternoon, East Coast Tees began printing T-shirts.

Word spread quickly through social media and from people wearing the shirts out in public. Now, a week after the chemical spill, Harrison said the company has done a brisk business.

"I was very pleasantly surprised," he said. "I thought people would have had enough on their plate with the water. I thought we'd maybe sell just a few."

 So far, Harrison said, East Coast Tees have sold around 200 shirts, with a portion of the sales from the shirt going to The Water Project, an organization that works to help communities in sub-Saharan Africa get access to clean, safe water.

Harrison said he's glad people can laugh even during a crisis, though he doesn't think the problems with the area's drinking water are resolved.

"I live in South Hills," he said. "I haven't had problems a lot of people have had. What you hear and see on Facebook is awful -- people waking up violently ill after they've flushed the water out of their homes and then used it."

"I don't think this is anywhere near over," he added. Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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