Power cut put OAPs at risk

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The Independent Online
Thirty senior citizens huddling in an old people's home in Lancashire were among thousands who spent a third day cut off from their electricity supply yesterday.

The pensioners, at Withnell House in Chorley, spent much of the Christmas period in the same dark room being kept warm by portable gas heaters.

Manager Sylvia Baron stated: "The fire brigade said it was against regulations but it was that or hypothermia."

She said that at night-time, staff with torches had been checking the conditions of residents at ten minute intervals and that it was a "miracle" none had died. Staff were unable to contact Norweb, the electricity supply company, on emergency helplines and even sought help from the army in desperation.

Local Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle attacked Norweb for the "absolute mess" of its emergency service, which left 900 of its customers cut off for a third day. He called for the company to be stripped of its customer service charter. "It's all about profits and cutting corners - they have forgotten about the customers who they should really be caring about," he said.

In total nearly 3,000 people were still without electricity yesterday after gales and storms caused chaos in the north-west of England and Wales on Christmas Eve. More than 100,000 were initially cut off.

In Ireland the picture was even worse, with 70,000 facing a third day without electricity.

Soup kitchens were being set up yesterday in Denbighshire and Flintshire, North Wales, by the Manweb electricity company which said its repair workers were struggling to cope with continuing bad weather.

By yesterday morning only 700 Manweb customers were without supplies but the figure climbed back up to 2,000 in the afternoon as high winds undid temporary repairs and brought down trees that had been damaged in the earlier storms.

"The conditions out in the field have been horrendous," a Manweb spokeswoman said.

She said the company was bracing itself for a deluge of compensation claims. "We are asking people to initially use their household insurance for their freezers, and then to write to us. We will treat each claim on its merits," she said. "We do apologise to people who have been without their supply but it has been extremely severe weather."

Norweb was also humble. "The problem was the size of the incident and the fact that it occurred over the Christmas holiday," said a spokeswoman.