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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 17:18 GMT
Harbin residents wait and worry
Water supplies have been turned off in the north-eastern Chinese city of Harbin amid fears that the city's drinking water could be contaminated after an explosion at a chemical factory upstream of the Songhua river.

As people prepare for days without water, the BBC News website spoke to residents in the city about how the crisis has affected them.

Local media showed dead fish in the Songhua river

Jim Goodrich, a student in Harbin, says that constant rumours and mixed messages from the authorities are causing real unease.

It started on Monday afternoon, at about 1330 local time. I was in class and a friend sent me a text message telling me to go to buy water because the supply was being cut off.

That afternoon, people were rushing out to buy water. Our campus supermarket was packed and water had sold out. All the late-opening supermarkets had sold out of soft drinks.

Still, no-one had any idea of what was going on.

At around that time there were also reports of an impending earthquake. That night a lot of people left the city and camped out in tents and surrounding villages.

Rumours are flying about here. The information we're getting is not clear. The official line from the government yesterday was that the water supply was down for maintenance. Today they've reversed that.

We quickly found out that an explosion in a factory in Jilin had polluted the river.

On television we are being told that we can shower. But we've also been told we can't use the water to drink or cook food.

I was watching a newscast today and they had video footage of the city government sitting around, talking and taking notes. They're saying that the pollution has not yet arrived in Harbin. We don't know when it will come and what the impact will be.

It's hard to get what people are really feeling because many don't want to project a sense of nervousness.

On Monday people were fighting for water. Now bottled water is being shipped into the city in huge [quantities] and the mood is calmer.

In our cafeteria, we're using plastic bowls and disposable chopsticks. I'm not panicking. I've got bottled water and [tinned] soup, although I haven't showered in a couple of days.

But I'm aware that I'm living on a campus where the administration has to provide housing, food and water for 50,000 people. What about the people who don't have such privileges?

There's a sense of patriotism, a little bit of fear mixed in there. Certainly, there is a sense of unease. But people believe the government. After all, they have no one else to believe.

Craig Hutchinson
Craig Hutchinson says his students don't see the situation as a crisis
Craig Hutchinson teaches English in Harbin and witnessed the struggle for access to drinking water across the city on Tuesday.

The city was full of ridiculously large queues. People were buying water in massive quantities. It all created a sense of panic yesterday and the day before.

Apparently, supermarkets have run out, the shops have no water. Cars and vans are bringing in bottles.

I'm remarkably lucky because the campus I live in gets its water supply from a deep well, which is apparently safe, so we still have running water.

But the boarding school I teach at has no water.

The school has just announced an enforced holiday until 1 December. The school is literally shutting down. I've heard this is happening in other districts of Harbin as well.

There are also rumours of an impending earthquake. The mixture of that and the water supply means that people are quite worried.

I have tried not to go to the toilets on the campus where I teach, because without running water, it's not the most hygienic situation. There are no showers for the students in this school.

The river doesn't look too bad, it looks dirty, but then it does anyway.

We've been told that it's going to take the supply about three to six days to get back to normal. But this is the sort of thing that happens in China.

The kids are just going along with it. They are a little annoyed. They have to go off-campus for their showers anyway and now they can't have showers at all. For them, it's just a bit of a problem.

But nothing seems to have changed in the city at large. Nobody was running around, it was just that shops were out of water.

I think people are just getting on with life. Harbin is full of people who are used to this and to the reality of life in China. You expect things to just happen.

Yang Yan is the manager of a youth hostel and she says she is not too worried about the water cuts.

We have been told by the authorities that the Songhua river has been polluted after an explosion at factory.

Yesterday, at midnight, they cut off the water.

We get water from a well, so we are OK, but the city's main public water supply comes from the Songhua river and that has been cut off.

We have been told that this situation will last for four days.

People are not worried. They can buy pure water from supermarkets for drinking. People have been storing water and there are people on the streets selling water.

We have water from other provinces such as Dalian coming to help us.

I can say that we feel safe and fine. Even though people from other areas may not be able to shower, at least they can drink and they can cook with good water.

I'm confident that this isn't too serious and I'm not too worried.

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