Hundreds of people in Sheffield entered their 10th day without gas on Sunday after more than 1.5m litres of water flooded into gas pipes and created a nightmarish scenario “like something out of a disaster movie”.
Heavy snow overnight delayed restoration efforts in Stannington, the worst-affected area, which sits at the top of a hill in the north-west of Sheffield. Malin Bridge, at the bottom of the hill, has also been badly affected.
Olivia Blake, the Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, said the situation was “very, very grim”, as the gas distributor Cadent warned that some properties might not be reconnected until Monday.
Blake said she was “desperately worried” for vulnerable constituents who had been off the gas grid since 2 December, when a 50-year-old water pipe burst and flooded gas pipes, cutting supplies to at least 2,000 households.
As well as severing gas supplies to homes across a four-mile area, some properties were flooded as the water built up to such pressure that it spurted out of appliances, ruining ceilings and carpets, said Blake.
Snow forced her to abandon her car at the bottom of a hill on Sunday morning as she went to help affected residents, who she said were increasingly tearful and cold.
As well as older and more frail people, those still affected included people undergoing cancer treatments, Blake said. Not all of those were on the priority gas register, which should ensure extra is available to people in vulnerable situations, she added.
Cadent, the gas supplier, said 34 households on the register still did not have their gas back on Sunday morning.
The energy regulator, Ofgem, said it was “extremely concerned” that vulnerable people had been without gas for so long.
A spokesperson for Cadent said the firm had “a couple of hundred” households still to reconnect on Sunday, with many others suffering intermittent gas outages as water continued to corrupt the gas pipes. She said she couldn’t be more specific about the number affected.
“We are desperately trying to get people back on [supply]. We were hoping the very last people would go back on today, but realistically it may well go into tomorrow,” she said.
The water pipe that burst was an asbestos-cement main from 1970s, but it is unclear exactly what happened, according to Yorkshire Water.
Its director of water, Neil Dewis, was confronted by angry residents on Friday. They accused the firm of not investing in infrastructure upgrades, claiming there had been nine or 10 recent water main bursts.
Snow delayed the arrival of some of the 250 engineers promised on site on Sunday to pump water from the gas mains and service pipes, which connect individual properties.
Cadent said it took just half an egg cup of water to stop gas flowing through a service pipe.
Blake said the situation on the ground was desperate. “There are people who haven’t had a hot bath or shower or been able to cook a hot meal for 10 days,” she said. “It’s like something out of a disaster movie. It’s absolutely grim.
“I can’t imagine anything worse than losing heat at this time of year – having no hot water and not being able to keep yourself and your kids warm. I’ve had people in tears on me all week. There’s a lot of people affected with vulnerabilities – young children with asthma, people in cancer treatment, people going through the absolute worst.”
Emergency accommodation was available for those who needed it, but most people wanted to stay put, said Blake.
Northern Powergrid, which supplies electricity to Sheffield, warned of potential powercuts as residents plugged in electric heaters to keep warm. It urged customers to stagger the use of demand of high energy using equipment like cookers, power showers, washing machines and tumble dryers and only heat essential rooms in their homes.
It has been providing hot meals for those affected, with two catering vans available from noon at Stannington Library and Malin Bridge Park & Ride, plus another from 1pm at Stannington Community Centre.
Kate Jones, Cadent’s incident controller, said: “A huge thank you to all of the residents who have been affected by the flooded gas pipes this week. You have been incredibly patient and understanding throughout this incident and we fully understand your frustrations. We thank you for being so kind to our engineers and all of the staff working around the clock to get you back on gas.”
Once gas is restored there must be a thorough investigation to find out what caused the issue, said Blake.
“There has never been anything quite like this. I spoke to the Association of British Insurers and they said it was ‘a novel incident’,” she said. “Every engineer said they have never dealt with anything like this. We need to know why this happened so that no other community has to suffer this nightmare.”