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Friday, 19 September 2014

Tynedale: Winter’s icy blast brings much of district to its knees

MUCH of the district ground to a halt on Monday morning as widespread disruption caused by the snow began to impact on the working week.

The doors at more than 40 nurseries, schools and college campuses remained closed throughout the day and into Tuesday as many teachers struggled to get to work and a string of school bus services were cancelled when routes through some of Tynedale’s rural villages became impassable.

Some soldiered on, including Haydon Bridge High School which remained open for students living in the village, while allowing those living in outlying areas, such as Melkridge and Allendale, to go home at lunchtime on Monday.

The severe weather is also thought to have caused power cuts in at least two Tynedale towns on Monday.

Around 1,600 properties were affected in Ponteland between 12.40pm and 3.30pm because of a fault with an underground cable.

Among those properties was Ponteland High School, which moved scheduled exams from the gymnasium to the dining hall to make the most of the natural light.

“The key thing is that the exams were not affected,” said Hugh Clear-Hill, whose daughter Rosie was sitting her GCSE geography exam.

“The school was really good about it and did what was necessary.

“As staff weren’t sure if the problems would last into Tuesday, they said the school would not open, apart from to those who needed to sit exams.”

In Prudhoe, around 2,500 properties were affected by a power cut caused by a fault in switchgear equipment at a substation, which prompted a temporary closure of Prudhoe Waterworld.

Power went off at 9.30am and, despite accessibility problems for engineers, was gradually restored over five hours, with all problems remedied by 3pm.

Interruptions to the power supply were also experienced in parts of the North Tyne, including Bellingham.

A spokesman for Northern Powergrid, which is responsible for delivering electricity across the North-East, said: “We would like to thank all our customers who experienced problems with their power supply and reassure everyone that our engineers worked extremely hard in pretty atrocious weather conditions to get supplies back on as quickly as possible.

“Not only were driving conditions tough, affecting our teams as they attempted to locate and get to the faults, but they also had to work through the heavy snow to carry out the repairs.

“It’s hard to say with absolute certainty at this stage, but it’s likely the weather caused the faults.”

Surestart children's centres in Haltwhistle, Prudhoe, Bellingham and Ponteland remained closed on Monday while all libraries across the county shut their doors early.

Refuse collections were affected as Northumberland County Council advised staff would try to empty bins across Tynedale wherever possible, but catch-up collections would have to be made where conditions were too hazardous.

Meanwhile, staff at Hexham General Hospital went the extra mile to ensure services were maintained during the storms.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust praised employees who pulled out all the stops to make sure patients continued to receive high quality care despite the heavy snow fall.

Some went into work on their days off, stayed over in hospital, or with colleagues and friends to ensure they could report for duty the next day.

Many battled difficult driving conditions or walked miles to attend work, and those not able to make it in to their usual place of work helped out at their nearest hospitals.

The trust's director of nursing Rosemary Stephenson said: “There are umpteen examples of our staff going the extra mile to make sure our patients across Northumberland continued to receive care over the weekend, whether that was in hospital or in the community.

“I’d like to thank them all for making monumental efforts to ensure they fulfilled their duties – it really shows the commitment and dedication they have to their work and caring for patients.”

Others who found themselves with an unexpected day off school or work embraced the wintry conditions and declared it a “snow day”.

Young people and families turned out in their droves to go sledging on the Sele in Hexham or spent time building snowmen.

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