Fleets of trucks delivered bottled water to businesses, schools, hospitals and homes as Sydney's 3.7 million residents were warned to boil their drinking water to make it safe. Vendors sold small bottles of water to drivers at stop lights.
Tests around the city earlier this week turned up signs of contamination in a small area of downtown. But emergency warnings were expanded to include suburban areas after the outbreak was found to be much more widespread than originally thought.
A special hotline was inundated with calls today from people concerned they drank tainted water and hundreds of people reported having stomach upsets.
Angry residents were demanding to know how the parasites cryptosporidium and giardia spread through the city's water system.
Authorities admitted failing consumers by not issuing early warnings to all city residents about the crisis and promised an investigation. Sydney Water also said that the treatment plant did not filter for one of the parasites.
The parasites have an incubation period of about a week, so any serious health problems are expected to develop next week.
Cryptosporidium causes symptoms similar to flu and can kill people with weak immune systems, such as the elderly and patients recovering from surgery. Giardia, normally spread through human or animal fecal matter, can cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal problems.
Urban Affairs Minister Craig Knowles said today that dead dogs have been found in a canal leading to the treatment plant. Sydney Water Managing Director Chris Pollett said foxes were found as well. But it was not known whether the animals contaminated the water.
"How they've got in there, goodness only knows," Knowles told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio today.
Pollett said the water system was being flushed and he hoped the tap water would be safe to drink in 48 hours. Water mains have been opened, and water gushed down curbs as the system was cleaned out.
Meanwhile, city residents were told to boil water for at least 60 seconds and preferably for three minutes to avoid the parasites.
In 1993, an outbreak of cryptosporidium in Milwaukee's drinking water contributed to the deaths of an estimated 100 people, many with immune systems already weakened by AIDS or cancer. More than 400,000 others got sick.
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