Hundreds of people in Sheffield entered their 10th day without petrol on Sunday after more than 1.5 million liters of water flooded into gas lines and created a nightmare scenario ‘like something out of a movie disaster”.
Heavy snowfall overnight has delayed restoration efforts in Stannington, the worst-hit area, which sits atop a hill northwest of Sheffield. Malin Bridge at the bottom of the hill was also badly hit.
Olivia Blake, the local Labor MP for Sheffield Hallam, said the situation was “very, very grim” as gas distributor Cadent warned some properties may not be reconnected until Monday.
Blake said she was “desperately worried” for vulnerable voters who had been off the gas grid since Dec. 2, when a 50-year-old water main burst and flooded gas lines, cutting off the supply to at least 2,000 households.
In addition to cutting off gas supplies to homes for a four-mile area, some properties were flooded as water built up to such pressure that it spurted out of appliances, destroying ceilings and carpets, a 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 growing more and more tearful and cold.
In addition to the elderly and more frail, those still affected included people undergoing cancer treatments, Blake said. Not all of these were on the priority gas register, which should ensure that additional quantities are available for people in vulnerable situations, she added.
Cadent, the gas supplier, said 34 households on the register had still not collected their gas as of Sunday morning.
Energy regulator Ofgem said it was “extremely concerned” that vulnerable people had gone without gas for so long.
A Cadent spokesperson said the company still had “a few hundred” homes to reconnect on Sunday, with many more experiencing intermittent gas outages as water continued to corrupt gas lines. She said she couldn’t be more specific about the number of people involved.
“We are desperately trying to get people back on [supply]. We were hoping the very last people would come back today, but realistically it could well continue tomorrow,” she said.
The water pipe that burst was a 1970s asbestos-cement pipe, but it’s unclear exactly what happened, according to Yorkshire Water.
Its water director, Neil Dewis, was confronted by angry residents on Friday. They accused the company of not investing in infrastructure upgrades, saying there had been nine or 10 recent water main breaks.
Snow delayed the arrival of some of the 250 engineers pledged on site Sunday to pump water from gas lines and service lines, which connect individual properties.
Cadent said it only took half an eggcup of water to stop gas from 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 is absolutely sinister.
“I can’t imagine anything worse than losing heat at this time of year – not having hot water and not being able to keep you and your kids warm. I’ve had people crying all over me all week. There are a lot of vulnerable people – young children with asthma, people in cancer treatment, people going through the worst.
Emergency housing was available for those who needed it, but most people wanted to stay put, Blake said.
Northern Powergrid, which supplies electricity to Sheffield, warned of potential power cuts as residents plugged in electric heaters for warmth. He urged customers to stagger demand use of energy-intensive equipment such as cookers, power showers, washing machines and dryers and only heat essential rooms of their house.
It provided hot meals for those affected, with two catering vans available from noon at Stannington Library and Malin Bridge Park & Ride, and another from 1 p.m. at the Stannington Community Center .
Cadent Incident Controller Kate Jones said: “A big thank you to all the residents who have been affected by the flooded gas lines this week. You have been incredibly patient and understanding throughout this incident and we fully understand your frustrations. Thank you for being so kind to our engineers and all the staff working around the clock to get you back on the gas.
Once the gas is restored, there needs to be a thorough investigation to find out what caused the problem, Blake said: “There has never been anything like it. I spoke to the Association of British Insurers and they said it was “a new incident”. All the engineers said they had never dealt with anything like this. We need to know why this happened so no other community has to go through this nightmare.