Plight of thousands of residents STILL without power 6 freezing days after Storm Arwen

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Shivering householders endured a sixth freezing day without electricity today as the chaos caused by Storm Arwen continued.

Some 16,000 homes were still without power, with rural areas in the North East of England worst hit as snow continued in temperatures as low as -2C.

A major incident was declared in County Durham tonight as power companies struggled to get the lights back on.

Long-suffering residents in the Durham Dales blasted Northern Powergrid for keeping them in the dark in more ways than one.

Paul Stubbs, 60, from Lanchester, was worried about mum Mary, 91, after she became unwell at her nearby home.

Queen Elizabeth Way towards Stockton covered in the white stuff
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The retired surveyor said: “The power company does not have the apparatus in place to look after customers, the vulnerable and elderly like my mum.

“The storm is not their fault, but their response and their telephone system is totally inadequate

“They keep on giving times for the power to come back, but they are all false dawns, totally false information, and people cannot make plans because of that.”

Paul and Elaine Stubbs from Lanchester have had no power for 6 days and have been sleeping on the floor downstairs to keep warm by the fire
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His wife Elaine, 62, a retired NHS children’s ward sister, said: “It has just been so cold. It’s constant and you cannot avoid it.”

Paul added: “It has been pretty desperate. The worst is at night – it gets to 3.30pm and it is just completely dark. You keep on trying to turn the lights on. We have a gas hob but it’s still freezing cold in the rest of the house.”

David Barker, 56, director of the Willowburn Hospice in Lanchester, said he is having sleepless nights worrying about the loss of power after relying on a back-up generator for nearly a week.

Sarah Langan from St Johns Chapel has been making meals for local residents at the community centre
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He said: “The generator is still working really well.

“But it is still very worrying when you don’t know how long it will take to put the power back on. We were told the power would be back on Saturday lunchtime, then Sunday lunchtime, then Monday evening, and so it goes on.

“Obviously we can’t close, the service we provide is needed. We have proper contingency plans and will not run out of fuel. But I go to sleep at night worrying about it.”

Engineers from Northern Power Grid continue to repair power lines brought down by Storm Arwen at St Johns Chapel in Weardale
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Many fear the loss of power could ruin Christmas if it goes on much longer.

Mark Corpe, 58, a dad-of-two who lives close to the hospice, told how the family had lost hundreds of pounds’ worth of festive food from their freezer.

He said: “There was £200 worth of meat, and that went into the council skip at the top of the hill.

“I used to work in logistics and the contingency plans for this have been woefully lacking. When you fail to keep promises about the power coming back on, you lose all credibility.”

Cameron Gordon is owner of the Chatterbox Cafe in St Johns Chapel, in Weardale
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Mark and his wife Anna, who have two children aged nine and seven, declined to give their full names because they were so worried about burglars targeting their £500,000 home during the long hours of darkness.

Mark told the Mirror: “It is just crazy in this day and age that there is this total lack of communication in an emergency, with no contingency plans in place.

“We didn’t want to move the kids out as they tell us the power is coming back on and you don’t want to break their routine if that is the case.

“It’s completely pitch black at night, so you do feel vulnerable. Thank goodness for the kindness of good neighbours. Just as during lockdown, we’ve all been looking out for each other.”

Venita Pattinson is a local resident at St Johns Chapel, Weardale, who has been without power for 6 days
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Anna, 36, said their children were still at school – though their uniforms were stuck in the washing machine when the power went down – and they are sleeping in the same bed with hot water bottles.

She said: “They are resilient, having been through Covid, but they are fed up now.”

The temperature was -2C in the rural community of St John’s Chapel, surrounded by snow-capped hills and desolate moorland.

Cameron Gordon, 56, of the Chatterbox Cafe, was providing much-needed hot drinks and snacks to residents, power workers and volunteers.

Snow falls in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, on Thursday
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He told of the fury when Energy Minister Greg Hands turned up this week with an entourage when no officials had been seen “for days”.

Mr Gordon said: “The problem was that Northern Powergrid were overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problem and then were giving out incorrect information.”

Local publican Terry Wood, 56, who confronted Mr Hands about the “total lack of response” to the emergency, said: “These people are paid to do a job. They didn’t do it.”

Retired home care company boss Venita Pattinson, 59, told how she was keeping an eye on her 86-year-old neighbour in a remote property close to her own home.

She said: ‘There is real community spirit here. We bought a generator and it is a case of keeping well stocked on petrol for it.”

Volunteers in the village hall were providing hot drinks, soup and sponge puddings. Cafe owner Sara Langan, who was serving hot meals to the elderly, said that there had been a slow response to the emergency.

John Hewitt of the Strategic Co-ordination Group for County Durham and Darlington, which declared the major incident today, said: “We are aware that many people have been left without power for almost a week now and we are working closely with Northern Powergrid to ensure that supplies are restored as soon as possible, particularly those who are vulnerable.”

About 11,000 Northern Powergrid and “fewer than 3,000” Electricity North West customers, mostly in Cumbria, were still without power today.

Jim Cardwell of Northern Powergrid said it would not be able to restore all supplies by the weekend, especially in more remote areas.

He said: “For most people it’s going to be this week but undoubtedly there will be some that go into next week.”

Power was restored to parts of County Durham shortly before 5pm tonight.

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Boris Johnson said around 130 troops have been deployed to help in the Grampian region of northern Scotland, where 3,000 homes were still without power.

The Prime Minister said: “We are doing everything we can to to help people. There were about 19,000 homes without this morning. We have got that down to about 16,000.

“That is no consolation for the 16,000 who are still suffering but we are working flat out to help you.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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