Thousands of homes in town lose water supplies

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Thousands of homes and businesses were left without water when a burst main caused chaos in a Yorkshire market town.

Up to 3,000 properties in Thirsk were affected when a pipe leading to a pumping station failed at 2.30am yesterday.

Yorkshire Water engineers worked desperately to restore the supply and appeared to have succeeded when it was rerouted through a different part of the network, allowing customers in Thirsk to be temporarily reconnected.

But many taps ran dry again at 8.30am when demand for water exceeded supply, leading to work on an alternative strategy involving pumping water to the station.

Affected areas were Thirsk, Carlton Miniott, Sowerby, South Kilvington. Customers in the area either had no water or experienced low water pressure.

Later in the morning a burst at Bedale left customers in Askew facing similar difficulties.

Yorkshire Water bosses urged local authorities across the region to check pipes at schools and empty buildings, after reports of leaks at 80 schools in North Yorkshire.

The company has been bombarded with calls from thousands of customers about damaged pipes and staff have been working round-the-clock to fix them.

The plea to councils was in response to fears that empty buildings such as schools could be affected.

Consumers also face uncertainty about bills with many meter readings cancelled so staff are free to help customers.

A spokeswoman said the company was braced to deal with about 200 complaints about burst pipes yesterday.

Most of the messages, up to 10,000 per day, were to do with burst or frozen pipes.

Officials said the company had increased the number of staff on duty to 300 to cope with the "unprecedented" number of calls.

Richard Sears, from Yorkshire Water, said: "We suspect that there are lots of leaks hidden behind closed doors as businesses have shut for the Christmas period, or homeowners have gone off to visit relatives.

"We would urge people to check on their neighbours' properties if they know they're away to see if there are signs of a leak.

"If there is, they should contact the owners or Yorkshire Water who will come out and turn the water off.

"Similarly, caretakers or landowners should visit unoccupied buildings."

The company underlined it was providing vulnerable customers with bottled water and that the reported leaks at the schools had been dealt with.

Customers are being urged to use water wisely as the network struggles to recover from the loss of tens of millions of gallons because of burst pipes.

People are being advised not to waste water on unnecessary baths and showers, with the company losing around 30m litres of water a day – around the same as 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and 2.5 per cent water used in Yorkshire every day.

The cold snap damaged pipes but the leaks have become a problem with the thaw caused the ice to melt.

Mr Sears, said: "We're working really hard to fix these bursts as soon as possible and it's very challenging.

"The sheer volume of water being lost through bursts means that it is proving difficult to maintain pressure in the water supply system."

But he also said there was no need to panic.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland residents who cannot get hold of bottled water are flushing toilets with cheap lemonade. The crisis is predicted to last into next week.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey also revealed many healthcare facilities have been experiencing shortages and bursts.

What to do if you have a leak

Turn off your supply using the main stop tap, which should be under the kitchen sink or where the pipe enter your property, such as the garage or cellar.

Cold water tanks should be turned off the stopcock, usually in the attic or loft.

Call a plumber – not the fire service unless there is fire danger.

Once you have turned off your stop tap, drain the system by turning on all cold taps and flushing the toilets.

Switch off the central heating, immersion and any other water heater.

Some leaks are hard to detect - listen for hissing sounds and check to see if your meter is running when everything is off.