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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 14:04 GMT
Harbin crisis brings people closer
By Louisa Lim
BBC News, in Harbin

Local residents stand in line to get drinking water from a water wagon on November 23, 2005 in Harbin
Residents flock to delivery points to get their supplies
In a city without water, trucks delivering this precious commodity have become mobile community centres.

People line up with big red plastic buckets, iron basins, kettles, pan, even drinks bottles.

This is the closest city to the Russian border and daytime temperatures are already below zero, but its inhabitants are used to hardship.

As they wait, they laugh and joke, swapping tips about how to cook without wasting water.

It seems this crisis is bringing people closer together.

If you go back to people's houses with them you will see that they have water stored in all possible places.

I went to one house where the bath was full, and I've even heard of people filling their washing machine for use at a later date because people simply are not quite sure when the water will come back.

Differing responses

For some, this environmental disaster means absolute confidence that the Communist Party can tackle the fallout from an 80km (50 mile) stretch of contaminated water.

"Of course the Party will look after us," one woman said, "it wouldn't let us go thirsty."

But there is also discontent. Some businesses have been forced to close down temporarily, like bath houses, car washes and beauty salons.

Their owners grumble quietly about economic losses.

Others, too, are beginning to question why their leaders lied to them, first telling them the water stoppage was for routine maintenance and only later admitting there was some truth to the rumours of poisoned water.

There is much to get angry about, over the accident itself and in the botched official response.

But for now, for people here, the main priority is still finding enough water to get by.

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