China cut off water supplies to more communities along a poisoned river in its northeast even as it celebrated the return of running water to a major city. A toxic chemical spill was winding its way down the Songhua River following a factory explosion on Nov. 13. Downstream in Russia, authorities were already bracing for the 80-kilometer (50-mile) long stretch of cancer-causing benzene that was to reach the border within days.
Beijing has offered no estimates on how many people rely on the Songhua for drinking water. The government was forced to shut off running water to 3.8 million residents of the city of Harbin for five days, restoring service on Sunday but warning that the water wasn't yet safe to drink.
On Monday, 10,000 people downstream in Yilan County were without water service, China Central Television reported. The Nov. 13 explosion upstream in the city of Jilin killed five people and spewed about 100 tons of benzene into the river, authorities have said.
The spill created a political disaster for President Hu Jintao, who has promised greater government accountability in the face of endemic corruption and recurrent public health scares like bird flu. The disaster also highlighted the costs of China's breakneck economic development, which has lifted millions out of poverty but left environmental protections in shambles.
In Harbin, the taps were on again but officials warned that the water wasn't immediately safe to drink after lying in underground pipes for five days. They said radio and television bulletins would announce when the supply was clean enough first to bathe in and later to drink. The government didn't say when that was expected to happen.
Hu's government issued embarrassing apologies to China's public and to Russia, where the nation's emergency agency said Monday it was preparing to switch off running water and airlift activated carbon for use in water treatment facilities to help absorb the spill. The Songhua River flows into the larger Heilong River, which is called the Amur in Russia.
Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry said the pollutants could affect 70 Russian cities and villages with a total of over 1 million residents along the Amur river, including Khabarovsk, a city of 580,000. Officials said the benzene spill was expected to reach Khabarovsk on Dec. 10-12 _ or sooner.
China's usually docile state-run newspapers have accused officials of lying about and trying to conceal the spill following the chemical plant blast, which killed five people and forced 10,000 more to flee their homes, the AP reported.
But on Monday, coverage on state-run television in Harbin was upbeat _ with a variety show celebrating the return of water. Young women in jade-green costumes danced with empty 40-liter (10-gallon) water bottles on their shoulders. A comedian played with a giant squirt gun.
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