Big thaw leaves thousands without water in parts of UK


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Media captionMum in South London: “Five kids and no water”

Homes across the UK are facing water supply problems – with thousands of people in Wales and south-east England urged to use as little as possible.

Water suppliers say a thaw has led to burst water mains and leaks.

About 13,000 homes are still without water in Kent and Sussex while thousands of properties in Wales and 5,000 homes in London also have no supply.

The industry regulator Ofwat has said water firms have “fallen well short”.

Suppliers across the country say teams are working to fix damaged pipes that have left customers with no supply or low pressure.

Water companies said cracks and splits had been caused by the freeze which are now being exposed as the pipes thaw.

Parts of the Midlands, south-west England and Scotland are also affected.

West Midlands-based carmaker Jaguar Land Rover has agreed to stop production to preserve the water supply for homes, hospitals and schools.

Chocolate maker Cadbury also sent workers home from its Bournville plant but said it was able to continue some limited production.

In south-east England and Birmingham, suppliers say they have been identifying vulnerable customers and providing them with bottled water.

Image copyright Yui Mok/PA WIRE
Image caption Thames Water have been handing out bottles of water
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thames Water said on Monday 10,000 homes in SW16 and NW3 postcodes in London have no water

At its peak, more than 20,000 homes in London were left without water on Sunday.

But supplier Thames Water said the number of homes affected was constantly falling.

About 5,000 are still without water, but it said homes in and surrounding SW17, SW12 and SE23 should have water back by 22:00 GMT. Efforts are continuing to return full supply to NW3.

The company says it distributed almost a million litres of water across the weekend.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “unacceptable” that thousands of homes in the capital still lacked water, adding: “I have sought assurances from Thames Water that they are doing everything possible to fix the problems.”

Several schools in London and Kent were closed because they were unable to guarantee running water.

South East Water has set up a number of bottled water stations in Sussex and Kent for 13,000 affected homes.

Southern Water, which had urged customers to “only use the water you absolutely must”, said it was restoring the supply to 5,000 homes in Sittingbourne, Kent but there were still 900 homes without water in Hastings.

Image copyright @stwater
Image caption Severn Trent said it had seen a 4,000% increase in reports of burst pipes compared with a typical day
Image copyright Thames Water
Image caption Work is under way to repair pipes in the wake of the freeze and thaw

In Wales, about 4,500 customers are without water, Welsh Water said. It added it was dealing with 200 leaks a day and the problems are “likely to continue over the next few days.”

Thousands of customers are also without water in parts of Birmingham, the West Midlands and Staffordshire.

Yorkshire Water, United Utilities, Affinity Water, Anglian Water and Bristol Water also said they were dealing with problems.

Severn Trent, which said it had seen nearly a 4,000% increase in reports of burst pipes, thanked Coventry-based carmaker Jaguar Land Rover for agreeing to stop production “to help us target our supply”.

South West Water said it has an “unprecedented number of burst water mains” and warned some customers in Devon and Cornwall that, although water can be used, there is a “noticeable taste”.

The government’s water industry regulator Ofwat has released a statement which said a number of water companies had “fallen well short on their forward planning”.

Rachel Fletcher, chief executive of Ofwat, said customers had been left “high and dry” because of firms’ support and communication.

She said: “Water companies have been warned time and again that they need to be better at planning ahead to deal with these sorts of situations.”

Parts of the UK are still recovering from the effects of Storm Emma and the recent freezing weather, with more than 100 schools in Wales still shut due to snow or icy conditions.

In Cumbria, the RAF has been called in to fly food supplies, coal, logs and electrical heating appliances to isolated communities, where many homes have been cut off from all supplies for five days.

And in Scotland, two Met Office yellow warnings for snow, rain and ice remain, with people being urged to travel with caution, while ongoing bad weather has been slowing down water repair works.

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Media captionOne restaurant owner in London was left without water on Sunday

In London, customers said the water helpline was unavailable, while shops reportedly ran out of bottled water in some areas.

“We are putting as much extra water as we can into our local networks and fixing leaks and bursts as quickly as possible,” Thames Water said in a joint statement with South East Water, Southern Water and Affinity Water.

“Please do not use water for anything that isn’t essential. This will make a real difference.”

Temperatures in most places increased over the weekend, however, two yellow warnings are still in place.

One, warning of snow and ice in Scotland, is in force all day on Monday. A second yellow warning for rain and snow in Scotland is in place for Tuesday.

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