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Chinese City Shuts Its Water Taps

Contamination in the metropolis of Harbin is feared after a chemical plant accident nearby.

November 23, 2005

BEIJING — Taps were turned off at midnight Tuesday in one of China's largest cities because of fears of contamination from a chemical explosion, triggering panic buying of food and bottled water, state media said.

The water was shut off because the blast at a chemical plant Nov. 13 was only a few hundred yards from the Songhua River, which supplies water to Harbin, a metropolitan area of 9 million people in northeastern China.

The accident killed five people.

The Beijing Times said the pollutants in the river had reached the city, and they included benzene, an industrial solvent.

A Harbin city official said the water would be tested after four days to see whether the taps could be reopened.

A factory manager said, "All containers are being used to store water, including the bathtub."

More than 16,000 tons of bottled water were being transported to Harbin from nearby cities and provinces.

"For the emergency use of water, fire engines and watering carts for water transport have been gathered," the official New China News Agency said.

A witness said today that residents of Harbin were jamming the airport and railway stations in an attempt to get out, although some of them apparently said they were fleeing because of rumors about an impending earthquake.

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