For the past week, Zhang Xingwei has been hauling buckets of water up 10 stories to his apartment in Chifeng in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region.
He is one of 58,000 residents forced to haul their own water or do without after torrential rains contaminated the city's tap water supply on July 23.
"The government is sending fire trucks to supply clean water to residents, but it's still so inconvenient," said Zhang, 30, who lives with his parents in the Yulong neighborhood of Chifeng's Xincheng District.
Some family members have not had a shower in days, and others go to work without washing their faces, he said.
Following the rains, residents began complaining on July 25 about fever, diarrhea and stomachaches after drinking tap water.
Notices appeared on July 26 advising that the water was tainted.
As of 5 pm Saturday, 4,307 residents in 18 Xincheng District communities had fallen ill from drinking the water, Gao Xihua, secretary-general of the Chifeng government, told China Daily yesterday.
Gao said about 3,000 people already had recovered, but 138 people remain hospitalized.
No deaths or serious illnesses had been reported as of yesterday.
Authorities said initial findings from an ongoing investigation showed that the pollution was at least partly due to a power outage during the heavy rains at a sewage pump station.
The power outage led to the discharge of raw sewage into a well 150 m west of the station that is the area's main water source.
The municipal water supply company has built a temporary pipeline connecting the district's water supply network to the company's system, Gao said.
Gao said 1,500 workers are sanitizing the tainted water. Once that work is completed and the water meets national safety standards, residents can once again use tap water.
Meanwhile, 18 fire trucks have been delivering clean water three times a day to affected residents.
Gao said those who were sickened by the tainted water are receiving free medical treatment.
"The district might resume providing tap water supplies on Wednesday or Thursday if everything goes right," Gao said.
Still, some residents are fearful other sources might be to blame for the tainted water, they told China Daily.
"I fear the water might be polluted by discharges from chemical factories, since several neighbors complained they got itchy skin by bathing in the tainted water," said Li Guiyang, a resident of the Wangfu neighborhood.
Zhang Xingwei, another resident, said he wants a better explanation from government officials.
"I don't think rain would cause the pollution," Zhang said. "There must be other reasons."
Gao said the investigation of the water supply, including whether any culprit other than the heavy rains are to blame, still is under way.
(China Daily August 3, 2009)