Chinese city of 3 million announces cutoff of water supply, sparking water-buying rush

A city of 3 million people in China's northeast announced that it will shut down its water system for four days, prompting residents to strip supermarket shelves of bottled water, news reports said Tuesday.

The government of Harbin said it had to shut down the system to check water quality, according to the government's China Daily newspaper and the Web site Northeast Net.

The shutdown takes effect at midday Tuesday, the reports said. They didn't say how many homes would be affected.

On Monday, "anxious residents thronged supermarkets and shops to buy whatever they could lay their hands on," the China Daily said. Photos in the newspaper showed supermarkets with shelves labelled "drinking water" standing empty.

"To ensure the safety of water, the municipal government has decided to thoroughly check the city's water supply system and cut off supply temporarily," said a city statement quoted by the newspaper.

The statement mentions an explosion last week at a petrochemical plant in the nearby city of Jilin, which is upstream from Harbin on the Songhua River, the newspaper said.

"The lack of details led to swirling rumors that the water in Songhua River, which supplies the city, was contaminated as a result of a chemical plant blast," the newspaper said.

But city officials said there was nothing wrong with the city's water supply, the report said.

Prices of bottled water have doubled, and the city government has ordered bathhouses and car washes to suspend operation, the China Daily said, AP reported. V.A.

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