Harbin, a large Chinese city in northeastern China, has suspended drinking water supply to its 3.8 million-strong population, fearing possibility of contamination by chemical spillage.
The city government in Harbin, northeastern China, Tuesday "made a U-turn by admitting that fears of water contamination in Songhua river... were behind the city's four-day water supply cut", the official China Daily said.
Other reports said the city had suspended its public water supply indefinitely.
The announcement Tuesday triggered panic buying of bottled water and soft drinks in Harbin, after the city government had claimed Monday that the talk of chemical pollution was "just a rumour", the newspaper said.
A government statement said environmental experts had forecast that toxic chemicals could reach the city this week, following spillage after explosions at a petrochemical plant in the upstream city of Jilin Nov 13.
The government "called on citizens to remain calm" after the panic buying, saying the water quality in Songhua was normal Tuesday, the newspaper said.
It urged residents, work units and businesses to store water before the suspension, and ordered closure of all schools in Harbin from Wednesday until the end of November.
Health officials also put 15 hospitals on standby for handling possible cases of chemical poisoning, the newspaper said.