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China Orders City to Restore Water

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  • Greg Cannon
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 26, 2005
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      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.

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5440298,00.html

      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
      water.

      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
      million people.

      ``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
      report said.

      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
      publicly apologized.

      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
      ordinary Chinese.

      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
      said.

      It was an extraordinary step for the newscast, which
      usually carries only positive reports about China's
      foreign relations.

      The government provided Russian officials and the U.N.
      Environment Program, which had offered cleanup help,
      information about the spill, the official Xinhua News
      Agency said.

      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
      facilities.

      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
      water.''

      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
      this week.

      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
      Daily.

      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
      supplies.

      ---

      Associated Press reporter Alexa Olesen in Beijing
      contributed to this report.
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