China Orders City to Restore Water
- It seems to me possibly irresponsible to order the
city to restore running water when the river,
apparently the only source of running water, is
probably still very contaminated.
China Orders City to Restore Water
Sunday November 27, 2005 2:46 AM
By JOE McDONALD
Associated Press Writer
HARBIN, China (AP) - Visiting Premier Wen Jiabao
ordered local leaders to restore running water to the
3.8 million people of this northeastern Chinese city,
who spent a fourth day Saturday without supplies after
a chemical spill in the river that provides their
The foreign minister, meanwhile, delivered an unusual
public apology to Russia for possible damage from the
spill on the Songhua River, which is flowing toward a
city in the Russian Far East.
Beijing's show of care and contrition was almost
unprecedented and represented an effort to restore its
damaged standing with both China's public and Russia,
a key diplomatic partner.
The government said benzene levels in the Songhua near
Harbin were dropping. But it said running water would
not resume until 11 p.m. Sunday, a full day after
originally planned when the shutdown occurred because
of a chemical plant explosion, setting off
panic-buying of bottled water in this city of 3.8
``We are a people's government. We should show a high
degree of responsibility to the people,'' Wen told
local and provincial leaders, according to the state
television national news. ``We cannot allow even a
single person not to have water.''
Wen promised to ``conscientiously investigate the
reasons and responsibility for the accident,'' the
Work crews were installing more than 1,000 tons of
carbon filters at water plants in preparation for
treating water from the Songhua River once it is
deemed safe, state media reported Sunday.
On Saturday, residents stood in line in sunny but
subfreezing weather to fill buckets and tea kettles
with water from trucks sent by the city government and
state companies. The local government has been sending
out such shipments daily, and companies with their own
wells have been giving away water to their neighbors.
Beijing has promised to punish officials found
responsible for the disaster. Local Communist Party
officials and China's biggest oil company, which owns
the chemical plant through a subsidiary, already have
The disaster began with a Nov. 13 explosion at the
plant in Jilin, a city about 120 miles southeast of
Harbin. Five people were killed and 10,000 evacuated.
But it was only this week that Beijing announced that
the blast poisoned the Songhua with about 100 tons of
benzene. The spill is possibly the biggest ever of the
chemical, a potentially cancer-causing compound used
in making detergents and plastics.
The spill has been an embarrassment to President Hu
Jintao's government. Hu has made a priority of
repairing environmental damage from China's 25 years
of sizzling economic growth and of looking after
Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing's apology to Russian
Ambassador Sergei Razov was reported on the state
television evening news, which is seen by hundreds of
millions of Chinese.
``Li Zhaoxing expressed his sincere apology on behalf
of the Chinese government for the possible harm that
this major environmental pollution incident could
bring to the Russian people downstream,'' the report
It was an extraordinary step for the newscast, which
usually carries only positive reports about China's
The government provided Russian officials and the U.N.
Environment Program, which had offered cleanup help,
information about the spill, the official Xinhua News
Officials in the Russian city of Khabarovsk,
downstream from Harbin, have complained that China
failed to tell them enough about the poison that is
due to flow into Russia in about two weeks.
Oleg Mitvol, deputy chief of Russia's Federal Service
for Supervision of Natural Resources, visited the
Khabarovsk region Saturday. In remarks broadcast by
Russian television, Mitvol said he had arranged for a
quick upgrade of the city's water purification
Earlier Saturday, Wen visited the Harbin No. 3 Water
Filtration Plant, where 300 paramilitary police were
delivering some of the 1,400 tons of activated carbon
sent to the city for water filtration once the Songhua
is deemed safe to use.
``Your work now is work to protect the safety of the
masses' drinking water,'' Wen told the troops outside
the plant. ``Make the masses' water completely safe,
and we must not allow the masses to be short of
State television showed Wen later visiting a private
home and a supermarket. He stood beside a display of
bottled drinking water as an employee assured him the
store had not raised the price.
Government newspapers have accused local officials of
reacting too slowly to the explosion and criticized
them for failing to tell the public the truth until
The comments appeared to reflect a high-level effort
to prod authorities in Harbin to do all they could to
help the public and to warn officials elsewhere to
prevent such disasters.
Chinese leaders ``are paying close attention to this
issue and are very concerned about it,'' said Li
Yizhong, leader of an investigative team sent to the
area from Beijing, quoted by the newspaper Guangming
Environmentalists have accused the government of
failing to prepare for such a disaster and of failing
to react quickly enough. They have questioned the
decision to allow construction of a plant handling
such dangerous materials near important water
Associated Press reporter Alexa Olesen in Beijing
contributed to this report.