Thousands still left without safe water as homeowners strip supermarket shelves of bottles following high-chlorine alert

  • Around 3,700 homes in Derbyshire and Leicestershire still have no water

  • Problems started yesterday after high levels of chlorine found in reservoir 

  • Water company didn’t disclose exact chlorine levels or how problem began

  • Superstores in the area are now completely sold out of bottled water

-by Lydia Willgress, Jay Akbar, Thomas Burrows, Kate Samuelson and Sophie Freeman


Thousands of homes in Derbyshire and Leicestershire are still without water as officials battle to flush out the contaminated supply.

As many as 3,700 Severn Trent Water customers were told they still could not access their water supply this morning after the company yesterday warned they could not drink, bathe or even ‘wash their toilets’ with it.

The contaminated supply has triggered panic buying across the region with thousands rushing to convenience stores and supermarkets in a desperate bid to buy bottled water.

Photographs showed a Tesco store in Ashby-de-la-Zouch with empty shelves after nearby homeowners stocked up – despite Severn delivering 48,000ltrs of water to the region’s supermarkets overnight.

Families were also forced to grab water from collection points, stocking trolleys with dozens of bottles so they could take some home.

A spokesman for Severn this morning confirmed a team was ‘working around the clock’ and said they hoped the problem would be sorted by lunchtime today. They added that homeowners should now be able to flush their toilets.

A statement on their website added: ‘We’re making good progress with flushing the system and will come back with an update for all our customers by lunchtime.’

Yesterday Severn Trent spokesman Jonathan Smith told MailOnline he could not disclose the levels of chlorine found in the Castle Donington reservoir.

He said: ‘There is more chlorine than there should be in the water… We can’t give you the levels that are in the water.

‘We don’t know if the level will be high enough that it will do damage to your skin.’

When asked if Severn Trent knew what caused the high chlorine levels, Mr Smith said: ‘No, we have to look at that in detail.’

He said the systems should be flushed by midday tomorrow and claimed people will have safe running water by evening time.

But the lack of information given out to residents has concerned many, with one mother, Maria Fowler, tweeting: ‘Will this affect my pregnancy? Slightly concerned as I have been drinking the water?’

Mother of two Sarah Yarnall, 34, of Woodville, Derbyshire, tweeted Severn Water at 7pm to ask if she was in the affected area.

Her husband Lee Shakespeare, 39, only found out about the water issue when his children’s school texted him.

The concerned father told MailOnline: ‘We went straight to the superstore Tesco in Ashby but all the water there had sold out by 5pm. My mother, who lives in Tamworth in Staffordshire, went to Co-op and ASDA to get some water for us, but it had sold out there too.

‘Other family members are now putting their tap water in bottles for us to pick up when we can.

Because Mr Shakespeare’s eight-year-old son Alistair is susceptible to sugar, which makes him hyperactive, they give him natural cordials diluted with tap water.

He said: ‘Obviously we can’t give him that at the moment. The only drinks available are sugary ones which we don’t want to give him.

‘Ariana [his one-year-old daughter] has a bath normally at around 6.30pm, so we’ve had to disrupt her regular routine. She’s a duck to water and absolutely loves bath time.’

‘We’ve been told that we can’t even flush the toilet in case the water splashes our skin. I’m also worried because I’ve washed dishes in the washing machine. It’s quite frightening – it sounds like it’s corrosive acid or something.

Mr Shakespeare said he was not surprised by the water problems today, adding: ‘Outside our house is a manhole cover for water and on Wednesday there was loads of what looked like sewer water coming out of it and it smelt like rotten eggs.

‘Severn Trent were racing up and down the road trying to fix it. We thought it was due to the heavy rain the night before. But now I’m not so sure.’

Others have told of feeling ill after drinking the tap water before Severn Trent warned them not to.

Darren Smith, 27, from Chellaston, told of feeling sick after drinking water in his home as he recovered from a cold.

He told the Derby Telegraph: ‘I feel very ill. I have been drinking loads of water all day to try and get better from a mild cold and now I’m much worse. I’m sure it’s down to drinking the water.’

Owen Pritchard, from Chellaston, knew something was wrong when he noticed an ‘extremely strong’ smell of chlorine coming from his dishwasher, telling Sky News: ‘It smelt a little like a swimming pool.’

And Sarah Durrant said: ‘The lack of communication [from Severn Trent] is really worrying.’

The One Stop convenience store in Chellaston, Derbyshire, ran out of bottled water in just two hours today, shift manager Angela Woodcock told MailOnline.

She said: ‘There is nothing at all left. People started coming in at around 2pm and by 4pm it was all gone.

‘We had a lot too – two big shelves of the big bottles (two litres) and three big shelves of the smaller bottles 750ml).

‘People are in shock, they’re panicking. Nobody knows what’s going on. They’re even buying bottles of flavoured water.

‘There have been people in shopping for elderly people, saying they’re concerned about them,’ added Angela, who will not have any water in the shop until Monday morning.

Jag Singh, the owner of Etwall Stores in Derby, sold more than 400 bottles of water worth thousands of pounds today.

Mr Singh, who made five trips to the Bestway Cash and Carry, told the Derby Telegraph: ‘It’s been absolute mayhem… People are all over the place and racing around to make sure they have water. This is a major issue and we’ve sold loads and loads.

He said people had not stopped coming to his shop since Severn Water announced the problem earlier today, adding: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it before.’

A worker at the Sainsbury’s superstore in Swadlincote said there was no water left in the entire store, adding: ‘It is a bit chaotic but we do have Severn Trent in the car park handing out water.’

Severn Trent yesterday said it has sent 24,000litres of water to the 3,700 customers – which could include homes, schools and businesses – who currently do not have access to any.

The company said it is using local newspapers, websites and social media to alert people – and it is directly calling elderly and vulnerable customers to tell them of the problem.

Assuming each customer has three dependents – meaning a total of around 11,000 people – each home is set to receive around one two-litre bottle each.

Severn Trent said they have ‘cut off the service’ to the reservoir where the problem was observed.

Principal inspector Sue Pennison said earlier today: ‘The normal level in a swimming pool is between two and four micrograms – this is a little bit higher than that.’

The company is now in the process of ‘flushing the pipes’ at the reservoir so the contaminated water is washed out.

‘This will take as long as it takes for us to be 100 per cent certain that our customers are safe,’ Mr Smith told Sky News earlier today.

Trent Water added in a statement: ‘A Do Not Use notice means that customers shouldn’t use their water supply for anything including drinking, preparing food and bathing.’

Severn Trent, which uses chlorine to make water clean enough to drink, said it does not know how long it will take to fix the issue.

Typically, chlorine levels in tap water in the UK are 0.5mg per litre, or less, according to Defra’s Drinking Water Inspectorate.

These levels are much lower than the maximum guideline set by the World Health Organisation of 5mg per litre.

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