BY KIRSTY PURNELL
Businesses rallied round to help residents who were left without water after pipes burst, forcing Thames Water to cut off the supply to thousands of homes during the freezing weather conditions.
One such business, El Chico’s Mexican restaurant in Streatham High Road, emerged as the white knight after owner Arber Yagmur spent hundreds of pounds on setting up an emergency water shelter in the restaurant.
He said: “I contacted Thames Water to offer them the restaurant as a venue for an emergency water shelter but they didn’t reply so I thought ‘I’ll set up an emergency shelter myself’.
“I went to my own wholesalers outside of London and bought 300 litres of water and started giving the whole lot away for free from the restaurant.
“I said ‘if you need water give us a shout on Twitter’ and we basically turned our work vans into delivery vans and went out and gave it to people.
“When stuff like this happens community really takes over.”
Thousands of households in South London were left without water for five days this week after the pipes burst following the recent big freeze.
Residents were unable to take a shower, flush the toilet or wash their clothes for almost a week and were forced to rely on two bottled water banks in Streatham and Balham.
Emergency deliveries of bottled water to elderly and vulnerable people were organised and carried out by groups of concerned residents and the council.
Thames Water does not have a breakdown of South London figures – only an estimated 20,000 affected across the capital.
Dunraven School in Leigham Court Road, Streatham, Sunnyhill Primary School in Sunnyhill Road, Streatham and The Livity Special School in Adare Walk, Streatham were closed.
Other businesses in Streatham, the worst affected area, were forced to close due to health and safety reasons because they could not provide running water.
Thames Water had managed to restore most of South London’s water supply by Wednesday morning but for many South Londoners it was too little, too late.
Swathes of residents were furious, claiming Thames Water had not kept them in the loop over repairs and criticised it for not making bottled water more easily available.
Diana Williamson, of South Oak Road in Streatham, spent her last £40 on bottles of water because her disabilities mean she could not get to the station at Streatham Homebase.
She said: “I contacted Thames Water and they told me about a water port but with my disabilities I can’t get there. I stayed on the phone until 1am trying to get hold of them.
“I understand that you can’t help the situation with the pipes but what about people with disabilities? I spent my last money on water. I got £34 through this morning and I’ll have to spend it on water again.
“The toilet can’t flush now so this morning I had to tell my daughter to put a bin liner in the toilet before she went. It’s causing toxic fumes in my house and with my asthma and lung condition I really can’t cope with it.
Jenny Ruddock, 30, of Leigham Court Road in Streatham: “It’s just really tiring. I’ve been late every morning for work and we’ve had to spend way more on food than usual as we can’t boil or wash things. The loo is ridiculous and the flat is filthy.
“Thames Water have not been consistent in their updates. The amount of times they said it would come back on and it didn’t. They shouldn’t give time frames if they don’t know.”
Thames Water had 131 repair teams and 144 specialist network technicians working on the network.
A spokesman said the enduring problems in the SW16 postcode area were due to air that had become trapped in pipes which needed to be fixed carefully to avoid further pipe bursts.
Chief Executive Steve Robertson said: “I know that customers have been urgently seeking more and better information on the problems in their area. In current circumstances we have not been able to reply individually to every social media contact we have received, but we are keeping our website updated and continue to have every available customer agent answering phones in our operational call centres.
“We cannot always tell our customers what they want to know most – which is exactly when their water will be back to normal.
“What I can say with certainty is that every effort has been made to get things back to normal for everyone as quickly as possible.”
Lambeth council, local councillors and Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley scrambled to set up additional stations and hand deliver water bottles to the most vulnerable residents.
Lambeth council has written to the government asking it to hold Thames Water to account for the incident.
The letter said: “These leaks have led to homes being flooded, roads and schools being closed and residents being forced to endure the indignity to living for days without being able to wash, while living in un-heated homes during the coldest spring in many years.
“The water network is the responsibility of Thames Water. A further serious incident this weekend has left thousands of residents in Streatham without running water again.
“The Government must take action to ensure that this situation does not happen again.
“I urge you to call an immediate inquiry into Thames Water’s handling of the situation and into their suitability to operate the water network.”