The British Army is to dispatch 100 soldiers to northeast England to help residents still struggling without power seven days after Storm Arwen knocked out energy supplies.
The squaddies will be based in Weardale and help carry out welfare checks at the thousands of properties still without gas or electricity, Durham County Council announced on Friday morning.
The move comes amid mounting criticism that the government has left devastated communities to fend for themselves amid the unprecedented outage.
“The lack of national support – people feel forgotten about,” one Tory councillor, Mark Mather, told The Independent on Thursday afternoon from the remote Northumberland village of Wooler.
Some 16,000 homes across Scotland and the north east and north west of England still remain without power. At least one death – that of a man in the Rothbury area, also Northumberland – has been attributed to the freezing conditions people are enduring without heating.
Now, following a desperate request for help from the County Durham and Darlington Local Resilience Forum, the Ministry of Defence has agreed for the soldiers to help.
John Hewitt, chair of the LRF's strategic co-ordinating group, said: "We are doing everything we can to support residents who are affected by the disruption to power supplies, from providing emergency supplies to simply checking in to make sure everything is OK."
He added: "We are very grateful to the Ministry of Defence that they have approved our request for support," he added.
But John Shuttleworth, a ward Durham County Council ward councillor for Weardale, said the help should have come sooner.
“It’s been a monumental task – hundreds of poles have come down – and the government needed to move earlier,” he said. “It’s a huge operation and everyone has been trying their best to get things moving but this should have been treated as a major incident by the government.”
The servicemen and women will be based at the area’s St John's Chapel and will carry out door-to-door visits to check on residents and ensure any help and support is provided where needed.
The move comes a day after military personal started helping in the Aberdeenshire area of Scotland.
Defence secretary Ben Wallace said: “We are always ready to provide extra support to civil authorities across the UK in their time of need.”
In a statement, the Energy Networks Association – which represents power companies – said that 98 per cent of homes had now been reconnected. But it admitted it would be at least the end of the week before it is back on for many others.