Water companies across the UK have been flooded with calls from customers as the big thaw leaves Britain’s pipes burst and leaking.
Since Christmas Eve alone, one company was deluged with 40,000 calls reporting problems.
United Utilities, which operates in the North West, said the “unprecedented” volume of calls was 10 times the usual number.
And other companies said the picture was the same the length and breadth of the country.
The problems were caused by ice melting following the prolonged cold snap.
It can cause the ground to move, putting stress on pipes, causing them to leak or burst.
Above ground, frozen pipework in homes and businesses is beginning to thaw, leading to more leaks.
One problem experienced by all utility companies was customers jamming their lines to report pipes frozen in their homes.
But water companies have no responsibility for pipes in people’s houses.
“It is not unusual to see the number of bursts increase when the temperature shifts after a prolonged cold snap,” said Scott Beard, United Utilities’ regional water network manager.
“We are fully geared up, with extra call takers, engineers and specialist leak detection teams all giving up their holidays and working round the clock.”
He added: “We have also brought in additional 4X4 vehicles to make sure our engineers can get to more remote areas which are still snowbound.”
Companies are appealing to the public to help by checking on any empty properties where they hold the keys in a bid to avoid further leaks.
The thaw has caused acute problems in Northern Ireland where thousands of customers’ supplies have been cut off.
It could be early next week before all customers are reconnected.
Around an extra 250 megalitres are being pumped into the system every day, Northern Ireland Water said, but most of it is being lost in leakages from burst pipes.
About 32,000 properties were affected last week.Temperatures in Northern Ireland hit a pre-Christmas record of -18ºC and were followed by a dramatic thaw, causing thousands of burst pipes.
Yorkshire Water, which covers 32,000km of pipes, doubled their call centre staff to more than 100 to cope with approximately 8,000 calls in December.
A company spokesman said: “It’s been a really, really busy, challenging last four weeks.
“We are dealing with around 250 bursts across the region and typically we are repairing around 160 leaks a day.”
He added: “North Yorkshire local authorities discovered 80 leaks on schools within their jurisdiction yesterday.
“That’s an incredible amount and gives perspective to the scale of the problem.”
From mid-December Anglian Water, which covers 13 counties, had “just short of 3,000 bursts”, it said, and has managed to fix two-thirds.
Spokesman John Clare said: “Winter started earlier than we expected but we were prepared with extra staff and kit because of previous bad winters.
“There has been a 300% increase in work in recent weeks.”
The number of burst pipes in the Southern Water region has almost doubled. In December 2009 they had 184 reports of bursts. In December 2010, 334 pipes burst along the 13,600km of water mains.
The company said it is conducting “round-the-clock” repairs.
Severn Trent Water forecasted receiving 4,733 calls between Monday 27 December and 30 December. It actually received 11,639.
Thames Water said the freezing weather had quadrupled the amount of bursts and leaks on their 32,000km pipe network under London and the Thames Valley.