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Last Updated: Friday, 25 November 2005, 11:36 GMT
Evacuations follow China spillage
Harbin residents talk about how they are coping.

Hundreds of villagers in north-eastern China are being evacuated from their homes following the pollution of the local river by a chemical explosion.

The evacuations, from villagers in the suburbs of Harbin, came as 3.8 million people in the city centre endured a third day without mains water.

The water supply is not expected to be turned back on until Sunday.

In south-west China, another chemical factory explosion has led to warnings of more benzene pollution.

Freeze fears

Those being evacuated from the Harbin area on Thursday include the 290 residents of Niujiadian village, most of whom are fishermen, according to the Chinese newspaper Life.

13 November Explosion at petrochemical plant, Jilin city
21 Nov Water to Harbin city cut off; local government cites mains maintenance
22 Nov State media say water could have been contaminated after the blast
23 Nov Authorities admit very high levels of benzene have been found in the water
23 Nov Authorities say 100 tonnes of benzene emptied into the Songhua river

People in the area are reported to have continued fishing in the Songhua river, despite the news that about 100 metric tons of benzene, an extremely toxic chemical that can cause increase the risk of developing leukaemia, was released into it.

The paper said the villagers, who take their water directly from the river, were being moved before the 80-km (50-mile) stretch of contaminated water passed through their communities.

It reached the city of Harbin at about 0300 local time on Thursday (1900 GMT Wednesday) and was expected to take 40 hours to pass through the area.

However the river is beginning to freeze over and there are fears that this could make it impossible to shift, according to the BBC correspondent Louisa Lim.

Rush to leave

In Harbin, those with money have already fled the city. Train tickets have sold out.

Capital of Heilongjiang province
Strong Russian influence
Hosts annual ice festival

There is plenty of bottled water, wells are being dug and supplies are being driven in.

But our correspondent says there is a sense of anger that officials knew the river was polluted with cancer-causing substances, following the 13 November blast at the PetroChina factory in Jilin, but took a week to warn people of the threat.

Officials are hoping the poisonous chemicals will dissipate as they flow down the river towards Russia.

There has been panic-buying of water in the border city of Khabarovsk, which could be affected by 1 December, according to the Russian authorities.

There is also concern about the impact of another chemical factory explosion in the southwestern Dianjiang region near Chongqing.

The blast itself, which happened on Thursday, killed one person.

Local schools have been closed, about 6,000 people have been evacuated, and officials have gone from house to house warning residents not to use water from the nearby river.

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