Cold turkey as blizzards strike

White Christmas: Thousands suffering seasonal snow chaos
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The Independent Online
More than 4,000 families in the Western Isles and Shetland suffered Christmas Day without electricity and face Boxing Day without heat or light because of blizzard conditions.

The weather was so bad that Shetland Islands Council ordered snow plough drivers to stay at home for their own safety.

Hundreds of engineers battled against atrocious conditions to restore power in the Highlands and Islands and north-east of Scotland. But many families ate a cold Christmas meal amid some of the worst weather in living memory.

Mike Keohane, a spokesman for the power-generating company Hydro Electric, said last night: "Despite the valiant efforts today of our repair teams in Shetland and the Western Isles we are talking about potentially another 24 hours without any electricity.

"It's just horrendous. Our response is clearly that this has been an act of God - a storm which produced winds in excess of 100mph has done very significant damage.

"Clearly what has happened is very regrettable and it is terrible on Christmas Day but power cuts certainly occur two or three times a year.

Hydro Electric covers one quarter of the land mass of Great Britain but only 2 per cent of the population. Many of its customers are supplied with electricity along single cables going up remote glens with small dwellings.

"It just takes one of these lines to go out," Mr Keohane said. "I think those who live in remote locations themselves know that you have to accept the risk at this time of the year. It's not like living in a city where you can switch electricity from four directions."

The blizzard left Shetland's 22,000 residents with a white-out Christmas. All roads outside the county town of Lerwick were blocked, the town and its population of 8,000 were cut off by drifts more than 30ft high. Thousands more homes were snowed in.

More than 20 airline passengers were stranded in a hotel near Sumburgh Airport.

The council convenor Lewis Smith said: "The snow ploughs can't cope. Heavy snow in Shetland is highly unusual and the only snow blowers are at the main airport." Clearing the 500 miles of blocked roads could take several days, he added.

AA Roadwatch said the severe weather made driving conditions hazardous in much of Scotland and northern England and more snow was threatened. "Our Christmas message is that if you don't need to travel - then don't."

Goat owner Anne Louise Macdonald, who crashed her van in the Western Isles blizzard, refused to be rescued unless police also took care of the wild goat. PC John Hier, who rescued Miss Macdonald and her father, Jimmy, said: "We told them the goat would be all right in their van until later. But the gentleman and the lady weren't having any of it."