Residents line up at the Tonghua People's Hospital to get drinking water. The hospital is one of 22 water supply centers across the city shipping 1,700 tons of drinking water every day. Zhang Tao / China Daily
Just like most of his neighbors, Bai Qilun spent the most part of Sunday, Aug 1, in a long line waiting to buy bottled water. He had been rudely awakened from his sleep at 6:30 am when his wife discovered the taps in their home had run dry.
"As soon as I opened my eyes, I was dragged from my bed and told to buy as much bottled water as I could," said the 30-year-old Bai, whose native city of Tonghua in Jilin province has in recent weeks been battered by heavy storms.
Residents in Tonghua, Jilin province, receive water from a supply center last week. Sun Liguo / for China Daily
"It was unusual as we rarely have a water shortage," said Wang Jingjing, Bai's wife and mother to his son.
She barely had time to worry about how her family would cook and clean without running water before the phone began to ring off the hook, with friends and relatives across the city rushing to confirm that the water supply had been cut off late on July 31.
According to the authorities, four pipes linking the city's only water source with its water-filtering factory were severely damaged by floodwaters caused by torrential rainfall. About 330,000 people were affected.
"Bottled water is like gold on the first day without running water," said Bai, who waited 30 minutes to buy 20 liters of bottled mineral water at his local community store at 7 am. Just minutes later, the shop sold out.
"People were panicked," he said.
Widespread panic can mean big profits for storeowners and some businesses even hiked prices to take advantage.
Liu Xin, who is in his 40s and runs Xinxin convenient store, admitted he rose prices of bottle water in his shop by one-third shortly after hearing about the severed supply.
"People were buying like crazy because they feared the water would sell out," he said.
The city authority quickly curbed such profiteering ways with a notice threatening businesses that inflate prices during shortages with fines for "illegal competition".
"They told me that raising the price of water would cause people to worry more about the crisis," said Liu, who agreed put a sign on his door stating that prices were the same as usual after being visited by officials.
To further crack down on price gouging, the city government also pledged to ensure adequate supplies of bottled water by importing 150,000 crates of water from neighboring counties every day.
Engineers are now drafting plans to fully restore supplies across the city as soon as possible.
"We held a meeting to discuss the possible options and decided to construct a 350-meter-long temporary pipeline on a bridge over the Hani River," said Wang Runmin, director of the Tonghua public utility bureau.
More than 300 workers were sent to the site on Aug 1 to start the repair work and the temporary link was completed last Tuesday.