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Thousands of homes without water as thawing pipes burst after freezing temperatures

By Chloe Holmwood

Thousands of homes across the south east are going into the evening without water.

As of 4.20pm, around 13,000 homes in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire had supply difficulties.

It is after multiple burst water pipes across the county meant metres of thawing pipes have leaked following last week's freezing temperatures.

People living in Sittingbourne have been left without water
People living in Sittingbourne have been left without water

As many prepare to head home for the day we are still being told to use water sparingly.

Operations director at South East Water, Dr Simon Earl, said: "We are very sorry to our customers who are without water.

"We have drafted in additional staff and contractors and are diverting others from non-operational roles to help with this emergency."

Despite this residents are being asked to use water sparingly by taking showers instead of baths, not to leave taps running and only use dishwashers and washing machines when there is a full load.

The 5,000 homes in Sittingbourne which woke up to no water this morning were reconnected by 11.15am, says Southern Water.

The water supply was reported to have gone off at 5pm yesterday after supermarkets had shut for the day.

Smaller stores, such as Co-op and Tesco Metro, were said to have run out of water last night and it is believed Sainsbury's ran out this morning - an hour after opening.

Southern Water said its engineers had been working through the night to restore supplies.

The supplier added that customers should only use water if they "absolutely must".

As a result of the water outage, a number of schools across the town remained closed today.

Listed as closed on Kent County Council's website were:

  • Borden Grammar School
  • Highsted Grammar School
  • Fulston Manor
  • Canterbury Road Primary School
  • Kemsley Primary School
  • South Avenue Primary School
  • Meadowfield School

WATCH: South East Water's operations director, Dr Simon Earl, providing the latest situation report on water supply issues

Swale council's headquarters in East Street and the minor injury unit at Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital have also been closed because of the town's water shortage.

Patients and staff at the hospital in Bell Road were warned to conserve water.

Emergency supplies were shipped in by tanker yesterday.

The hospital site includes a GPs' surgery, clinics, 23 beds operated by Virgin Care and 48 mental health beds operated by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

A spokesman for NHS Swale Clinical Commissioning Group said: "Anyone with a need for urgent medical treatment which isn't a life threatening emergency should use the minor injury unit at Sheppey Community Hospital in Plover Road, Minster, or call NHS 111."

Meanwhile, a number of homes in Ashford and Lenham were also without water this morning.

People queuing for water at Sittingbourne's Aldi store this morning. Picture: Amy Gambrill
People queuing for water at Sittingbourne's Aldi store this morning. Picture: Amy Gambrill

South East Water UK said bottled water would be delivered to Lenham this morning, but supplies had run out by 8.45am.

Further water points are being planned.

Douglas Whitfield, head of production for South East Water, said he had not seen a leakage outbreak of this magnitude for over 20 years.

He said earlier: "Our teams have been working through the night to try and locate and fix the bursts and also provide bottled water where we can.

"It's proving a very challenging outbreak. I have worked in the industry for over 20 years and I have never seen an incident of this magnitude across our area."

Mr Whitfield said the cause of the outbreak was due to the bout of cold weather across the county last week.

"The cold really got down into the ground, into the depth that the pipes are in, but really it was the problem of the thaw," he said.

"It was a very rapid rise in temperature which caused the ground to move across the region very slightly and that's what caused a large number of mains to burst under the ground."

Mr Whitfield said it was difficult to say when supplies would be back to normal but said the company was doing all it could to try and put things right.

Customers who have water have been asked to help reduce demand by only using water for essential tasks.

They have also been asked to check their pipes for leaks and bursts and to call a plumber if necessary.

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