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China Acts to Address Spill Damage

November 27, 2005|From Associated Press

HARBIN, China — Premier Wen Jiabao ordered local leaders to restore running water to the nearly 9 million residents of the greater Harbin area Saturday, four days after it was shut off because pollutants had spilled into the Songhua River.

The government said the city's water system, shut down last week after a chemical plant explosion spewed 100 tons of benzene and other chemicals into the river, wouldn't resume service until late tonight.

"We cannot allow even a single person not to have water," Wen said Saturday, state television reported.

The city's residents stood in line in freezing weather to fill buckets from trucks supplied by the city and state companies.

Also Saturday, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing issued an unusual public apology to the Russian ambassador for damage likely when the poisonous slick crosses the border. The Songhua flows into the Heilong River, which is known as the Amur River when it enters Russia.

Beijing has been criticized for slow response to the toxic leak, and the government's act of public contrition was seen as an effort to repair its reputation.

Russian authorities were preparing plans to limit the damage from the spill, including a temporary shutdown of water systems that rely on the Amur.

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