Residents of a city in eastern China are baffled after a river turned blood red, seemingly overnight. Locals from Wenzhou, a prefecture in the Zhejiang province, said the river looked normal at 5 a.m. Beijing time on Thursday but then turned a deep crimson within the hour. Residents also complained of a strange smell that wafted through the air. Inspectors from the Wenzhou Environmental Protection Bureau say haven’t found the cause of the incident, although industrial contamination has been ruled out because there are no chemical plants along the waterway.

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RIVER OF BLOOD

“Nobody has any idea how it could have ended up being polluted because there are no factories that dump anything in the water here,” one local commented on Weibo, China’s microblogging site. “The really weird thing is that we have always been able to catch fish and you can even drink the water because it’s just normally so good.”

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An early analysis of water samples suggests illegal dumping as a possible cause for the transformation. “We suspect that somebody dumped artificial coloring in the water because he thought the typhoon yesterday would cause heavy rain, and nobody would notice [the color],” bureau chief Jianfeng Xiao, told China News. “It turned out there wasn’t heavy rainfall yesterday, so the evidence is left behind.”

This isn’t the first time one of China’s rivers have turned an ominous shade of red. A section of the Yangtze River, known traditionally as the “golden watercourse,” took on the appearance of tomato juice in September 2012. (Explanations have ranged from industrial contamination to algal bloom to—we kid you not—the end of days.)

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In December 2011, the Jian River in northern China turned scarlet after a nearby chemical factory, which was producing red dye for Chinese New Year fireworks wrappers, illegally dumped their runoff in the city’s storm-water pipes.

[Via ABC News]