Anna Kurzhitskaya went to Christmas Eve Mass on Saturday to pray for protection from the Chinese chemical spill flowing past this city in Russia’s Far East.
She cooked Christmas dinner for her family with bottled water she stockpiled like other residents.
“A clear and safe water would be the best Christmas gift for us,” Kurzhitskaya, 63, said as she put plastic plates on the table to avoid having to wash dishes.
The most concentrated part of the slick reached Khabarovsk late Friday and many people feared opening the taps.
They remained skeptical of official assurances that the water was safe because it was being filtered through tons of carbon to protect against the chemicals floating down the Amur River, which feeds water supplies in this city of 580,000 people on the border with China.
“There is no reason to fear the tap water; we guarantee its safety,” Vladimir Popov, head of the local emergency headquarters, told The Associated Press.
Despite such assurances, the water company reported a sharp drop in consumption Saturday for a second straight day.
The arrival of the slick after nightfall Thursday came nearly six weeks after an explosion at a chemical plant spewed toxins into a river upstream in China’s northeast.
The spill disrupted water supplies for millions of Chinese, including 3.8 million in the city of Harbin who were without running water for five days.
The governor of this Russian region, Viktor Ishayev, has criticized China for reporting only the leak of benzene and nitrobenzene and providing no information on other toxic substances thrown into the river.
Regional administration spokesman Oleg Kabin said Saturday that the 110-mile-long slick was expected to be past Khabarovsk bu Monday.
But experts warned that the effects would be long-lasting, since benzene and nitrobenzene are settling on the river bottom, sticking to ice and accumulating in fish.
“We must tell people the truth: Fish would be unsafe for at least two years,” Popov said.
That had residents worried.
“I’m afraid that we will have to use bottled water to celebrate not only Christmas but Easter as well,” said Emma Ruskova, 30.