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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 13:02 GMT
Chinese toxic blast official dead
Woman with bucket in Harbin
Residents of Harbin went five days without running water
The vice-mayor of the Chinese city where a chemical blast polluted a major river last month has been found dead.

Police are investigating the cause of death after Wang Wei, 43, was found on Tuesday at his home, officials said.

News of his death came as China said it would severely punish anyone found to have tried to cover up the impact of the blast, in north-eastern Jilin.

The spilled chemicals have now reached Jiamusi, the last Chinese city before the Songhua river flows into Russia.

More than 100 families in Jiamusi have temporarily left their houses and the city has built up reserves of bottled water, China's Xinhua news agency said.

Mr Wang had been responsible for dealing with the aftermath of the 13 November explosion at a chemical plant in Jilin.

Two days later he was quoted by the China Business News as saying: "It will not cause large-scale pollution. We have decided not to have a large-scale evacuation."

In fact, the nearby city of Harbin had its water supply stopped for five days as the spilled chemicals passed.

Tardy response

Three weeks on from the accident, China's leaders are finally scrambling to assign blame, says a BBC correspondent in Beijing, Louisa Lim.

The saga has already led to two resignations - the head of the environmental watchdog and the boss of the petrochemical company in charge of the plant which exploded.

The government has set up a team to find out who was responsible for the explosion. It warned that anyone who failed to co-operate would be punished.

Government leaders are increasingly stressing the need for local officials to be seen to be accountable, and more transparent.

But our correspondent says that the terms of the investigation refer only to the immediate explosion, not to any ensuing cover-up, and therefore might not be enough to assuage public anger.

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