Communities, the local authority and other key organisations are rallying round to support residents in County Durham following one of the worst storms in the last decade.
The Strategic Co-ordination Group (SCG) for County Durham and Darlington has declared a major incident following Storm Arwen, which brought gale force winds, heavy rain and snow across the weekend.
The storm brought down power lines across the region and up to 13,000 properties in County Durham are still without power due to the scale of the damage caused.
The areas affected include Teesdale and Weardale as well as a number of communities in east Durham and to the north and west of Durham.
Declaring a major incident means that the partner organisations of the Local Resilience Forum (LRF) have escalated the issue in order to be in a position to provide additional support to those who are affected by a loss of power.
The decision has been taken because Northern Powergrid is not yet in a position to confirm when supplies will be reinstated to all properties across County Durham and it is important that all possible resources are made available to support residents affected by the power cuts.
John Hewitt, Chair of the SCG, said:
“We are aware that many people have been left without power for almost a week now and we are working closely with Northern Powergrid to ensure that supplies are restored as soon as possible, particularly those who are vulnerable.
“In the meantime, our priority is ensuring that support is available to everyone who needs it and we have teams from all organisations out in communities offering a range of advice and practical support.
“We are also aware of the tremendous efforts members of the community are making to support those in need. We would like to thank them for all they are doing and urge others to look out for friends and neighbours where they can.
“Please remember that support is available, so please get in touch if you or someone you know needs help.”
Over the past few days, representatives from Durham County Council, Durham and County Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, Durham Constabulary, the Mountain Rescue Service, Northumbrian Water and Northern Powergrid have been carrying out welfare checks on residents whose electricity supply has been affected.
As well as providing information on the support available, they have been providing bottled water and other essentials and helping those without access to a phone signal or charging point them make urgent phone calls.
Among those supporting the efforts are staff from the council’s neighbourhood warden, community protection, housing and social care services. The authority’s Care Connect and customer services teams have also been identifying vulnerable residents with no power and contacting them to see if they need assistance.
The council has also arranged for hot food trucks to visit affected communities and has been offering support through its community venues. It is also working with Durham University, which has provided up to eight flats as temporary accommodation for families without power.
Northern Powergrid is providing hot meals, drinks, refuges and respite to the worst affected communities, where it has also deployed teams to offer support. Extra resources have been drafted into its contact centre and a dedicated team is proactively contacting priority service customers, Firefighters and cadets from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service’s Stanhope, Durham, Crook and High Handenhold stations have been carrying out welfare checks and providing hot water, cooking facilities, heaters and offering fire safety advice.
Over the weekend crews in Weardale also assisted Northumbrian Water in delivering water to farms and remote locations. Crews will continue to work with partners around the clock in the worst affected areas, ensuring those who require assistance receive the help they need until power has been completely restored.
At the height of the storm, Durham Constabulary’s response teams dealt with a high number of incidents, including a joint operation to rescue stranded motorists on the A66 and attending roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines across the county.
Neighbourhood Police Teams throughout the force area are continuing to carry out welfare checks on vulnerable people, with teams of PCSOs knocking on doors to check residents are OK in some of our most remote communities.
Over the coming days, officers will be carrying out round-the-clock high-visibility patrols in those areas hardest hit by Storm Arwen, particularly Weardale and Teesdale, to ensure people and their property remain safe.
Teams from Northumbrian Water faced challenging conditions as they worked around the clock to fix problems, install back-up power sources, deliver bottled water to vulnerable customers and businesses in rural locations and, ultimately, restore supplies across County Durham.
The remote and rural locations are causing additional challenges, and Northumbrian Water has been working with Northumberland Fire and Rescue, County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue and the NFU to support farmers, particularly those with livestock, affected by loss of water supply due to Storm Arwen.
Because of loss of communciations and contact with Northumbrian Water sites, the company has had teams of people traveling 24/7 around County Durham to actively check critical pumps and reservoirs. Alongside water operations, there have also been functional impacts on the operations of wastewater sites, with these challenges increasing if the lack of power supply remains for a sustained period.
Community teams from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust are working to support vulnerable patients across County Durham and Darlington in what have been unprecedented conditions for the trust.
Many vulnerable patients are seen every day as part of their care, such as for daily insulin visits and this has continued during Storm Arwen.
Since Sunday, the trust has also been have working hard to understand where long term power outages will affect medical equipment for patients in the community and trying to put in alternatives to ensure they are supported. For example, patients who have battery powered equipment that now needs recharging.
Many community venues and voluntary groups are also offering support, a list can be found at www.durham.gov.uk/stormarwensupport.
Anyone who is aware of an older or vulnerable person who needs help, can contact our customer services team on 03000 26 0000. This number is available 24 hours, with out of hours emergency support available through our Care Connect team.
If someone is without power and is vulnerable, call 105. Additional contact numbers are available for residents with a hearing or speech impairment. Full details are available at https://www.northernpowergrid.com/contact.
If you are without power, please:
Use torches and not candles
Keep portable heaters one metre away from you, your furniture or any other belongings
Never use portable heaters to dry clothes
Only use heaters on a stable surface
Service heaters on an annual basis
Keep chimneys and flues clean and well maintained
Install a Carbon Monoxide alarm in all rooms with a solid fuel/gas/oil appliance or fire
Ensure camping or temporary stoves are used correctly and safely