Sheffield residents face fifth day without heat after gas main flooded

<span>Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer</span>
Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

Sheffield residents say their entire households are sleeping in the same room with a single electric heater or have moved out altogether as they face a fifth day without gas as temperatures plummet.

A major incident was declared and 2,000 homes were affected in Stannington, a suburb of Sheffield, after 600,000 litres of water entered a gas main on Friday evening. Nearby Hillsborough is also affected. Olivia Blake, the MP for Sheffield Hallam, has called on the government to provide emergency support on the ground.

“The situation is dire,” said Alan Walker, 67, the owner of the Village Store. He also spoke about an 86-year-old former employee who lives nearby: “She suffers from dementia and gets a care package four times a day. Yesterday morning carers went in and decided the best thing to do was to leave her in bed and give her breakfast there because that would be the best place for her.

“After she ate her breakfast, one of our staff went in to see if she was all right. She was laying in bed shaking with potential hypothermia. They got her out of bed and put her in the lounge with the fan heater on her and brought her round. It was potentially a death situation.”

Walker’s home is 10C (50F) and he has no cooking or washing facilities working in his business. Four of his staff are off work ill and they are also affected by the gas outage.

Cadent, the gas company “haven’t got a plan. They’re making up the policy as days go by”, Walker said.

Ted Archer, 68, said: “On the night it happened my neighbour knocked on my door at about 10.30pm and said there’s a problem with the gas. I went outside to turn off the supply and there was water spurting out of the gas metre.”

There have been reports of water leaking out of gas ports. “My mate had water squirting out of his gas fire,” Archer said. “Another mate turned his gas hob on and water shot out of it and went straight into his extractor fan.

“The house has been freezing ever since. We’ve only got two fan heaters and then were advised to use them sparingly. It’s been really tough since Friday night, just heating one room.”

After Cadent gave out thousands of electric heaters, residents were told to stop using them as they were overloading the electric grid. “They’re telling us not to use the heaters because they’re beaching the grid,” says Walker.

“Last night, nine houses on a street had no power because they were using the only heat source they had.”

Jamie Tuxford, 38, owner of the Peakcock Inn, said he was losing £1,000 a day as a result of the outage, not taking into account costs which includes staff wages, bills and the food they have had to waste. “The compensation Cadent offers is £100 per 24 hours, no matter the size of the business,” he said.

Cadent told Tuxford to speak to his insurance company. “They told us because we are still open and trading, they don’t know if it’s possible to make a claim for loss of business because we’re still open,” he said.

“We want to stay open to provide for the community so they can come in and stay warm. We provide free teas, coffees and electric heating but are being pressured into closing. We can’t just keep losing a thousand pounds a day.”

December is the Peacock Inn’s busiest period. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time. All the food for the busiest part of the year is gonna be thrown away or given to food banks.”

“We’re five days in and we’ve got as much information as when it first started,” Tuxford said.

Rania Hunaishi, 25, a student who is pregnant and has a one-year-old , said she moved out and stayed at her mum’s home for a few days “just to have a nice warm house, not stepping into the toilet and it’s flipping freezing”.

She has returned home but isn’t able to use the bath because of the lack of hot water. “It’s the time I can ease my back pain,” she said.

Peter Fox, 78, also left his home because of the lack of heating and moved into his son’s house.

A spokesperson for Cadent said: “We have a well-rehearsed plan. We have to pump the water out, once we do so we’ll get the gas back in. We have given out hot plates and heaters and provided vulnerable residents with meals. We’ve also been working with other agencies. Sheffield council has been visiting vulnerable residents.

“From today, Northern Powergrid have provided free hot meals from food trucks. British Gas engineers have been out helping us and will repair appliances.”

As for compensation, the spokesperson said a £105 daily compensation is provided to commercial properties for the loss of gas. A separate claim must be filed for other losses. Domestic properties receive £65 a day.

As temperatures are expected to continue falling, there is little hope things will turn around in the coming days. “There is no prospect of the gas coming back on anytime soon,” says Walker.

Yorkshire Water said on Tuesday the leak had been fixed, while Cadent said engineers remained on site draining water from the system.