Floods chaos as freeze gives way to thaw

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The Independent Online

Thousands of homes across Britain were flooded yesterday and many more face having their water supply cut off, as the cold weather gave way to a sudden thaw.Temperatures soared from -20C in some places to about 7C, bringing rapid thawing and burst mains and pipes.

Water company switchboards were jammed with callers seeking assistance, and last night it was announced that the Army may be enlisted to help restore services north of the border. Scotland is the worst hit so far, with 500,000 homes in Strathclyde suffering burst pipes at some point over the holiday. Tenants had to be evacuated from tower blocks in Glasgow's Gorbals district when water tanks burst.

Engineers worked around the clock to restore supplies, but for many customers returning from Christmas and New Year breaks to flooded homes, all that could be done was to switch off at street mains.

A deluge of burst pipes in Tayside left more than 1,000 council homes in Dundee washed out as teams of plumbers, joiners and electricians fought to repair the damage. The mop-up operation could take weeks.

Water rationing was introduced in parts of Northern Ireland, with more than 100,000 homes affected as reservoirs ran low because of water leaks and burst pipes. Water tankers were being used in some areas.

The Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is responsible for Ulster's public housing, dealt with more than 5,000 calls. Plumbers ran short of materials and the executive had to arrange special openings of supply stores.

The timing of the thaw - while most schools, factories and offices were still on holiday - meant that many leaks from burst pipeswent undetected, leading to colossal water losses.

Thousands of consumers in the Carmarthen area of west Wales spent the day without water because of a burst main. Although it has been repaired, Welsh Water has warned that it could be well into today before supplies are restored. Among those hit was West Wales General Hospital where bottled water had to be brought in.

North West Water drafted in extra staff to cope with calls, while North East Water had to rush out hundreds of emergency canisters of water to stricken households across Northumberland, Tyneside and Wearside.

Anglian Water reported dozens of calls to deal with burst mains and to cut off supplies to empty houses. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the authorities in Essex and Suffolk, where mains pipes burst over the weekend, said: "It has been endless. The phones are blocked out with hundreds of calls."