Big thaw leaves thousands without water in parts of UK

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Media captionA Chinook has been flying in supplies to cut-off Cumbrian communities

Homes across the UK are facing water supply problems – with thousands of people in Wales and south-east England urged to use as little as possible.

Water suppliers say a thaw has led to burst water mains and leaks.

About 13,000 homes are without water in Kent and Sussex while thousands of properties in Wales and 10,000 homes in London also have no water supply.

The industry regulator Ofwat has criticised water firms for ignoring warnings to improve planning.

In south-east England, water companies say they have been identifying vulnerable customers and providing them with bottled water.

Parts of the Midlands and Scotland are also affected by intermittent supply.

Increased demand on Monday morning has put pressure on many water networks, with suppliers warning of poor water pressure and intermittent supplies as they try to refill pipes.

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Thames Water have been handing out bottles of water

At its peak, more than 20,000 homes in London were left without water on Sunday.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said it was “unacceptable” that thousands of homes in the capital still lacked supply, adding: “I have sought assurances from Thames Water that they are doing everything possible to fix the problems.”

Several schools in London and Kent have said they will be closed on Monday because they cannot guarantee running water.

Southern Water, which had urged customers to “only use the water you absolutely must”, said it was restoring the water supply to 5,000 homes in Sittingbourne, Kent.

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Thames Water

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Work is under way to repair pipes in the wake of the freeze and thaw

Welsh Water said about 4,500 customers were without water and it was dealing with 200 leaks with “problems likely to continue over the next few days.”

Severn Trent apologised to affected customers in parts of north Derbyshire while South East Water has set up a number of bottled water stations in Sussex and Kent.

Yorkshire Water and South West Water said they were dealing with problems.

The Government’s water industry regulator Ofwat has released a statement criticising the water companies, but it accepts that the severe weather conditions “have undoubtedly had an impact on pipes and infrastructure”.

Rachel Fletcher, chief executive of Ofwat, said: “Water companies have been warned time and again that they need to be better at planning ahead to deal with these sorts of situations, including proactively communicating with customers when they anticipate issues.”

Parts of the UK are still recovering from the effects of Storm Emma, with more than 100 schools in Wales still shut due to snow or icy conditions.

In Cumbria, the RAF has been called in to fly food supplies, coal, logs and electrical heating appliances to isolated communities, where many homes have been cut off from all supplies for five days.

And in Scotland, Met Office yellow warnings for snow and ice remain, with people being urged to travel with caution, while ongoing bad weather has been slowing down water repair works.

Scottish Water said: “Weather and road conditions have presented challenges in maintaining our usual response services and we apologise if you’ve experienced a delay in us getting to you.”

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Media captionOne restaurant owner in London was left without water on Sunday

In London, customers said they could not register outages as the helpline was unavailable, while shops reportedly ran out of bottled water in some areas.

“We are putting as much extra water as we can into our local networks and fixing leaks and bursts as quickly as possible,” Thames Water said in a statement.

“Please do not use water for anything that isn’t essential. This will make a real difference.”

Jerry White, business manager at Thames Water, said engineers were “working extra hard” over the weekend.

He said there had been a “20% jump in the demand for water in the last five days”.

The problems came after a prolonged period of cold weather for much of the UK.

Water companies said cracks and splits had been caused by the freeze which are now being exposed as the pipes thaw.

Temperatures in most places increased over the weekend, however, two yellow warnings for ice are still in place in Scotland and for snow and ice in northern England and Northern Ireland.

A weather warning for Scotland has been extended into Tuesday.

Meanwhile, two flood warnings remains in place – in Swanage Bay, Dorset, and Halesworth, Suffolk – while 33 less severe flood alerts are in place.

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