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John Swinney apologises to Aberdeenshire residents for ‘suffering and hardship’ faced in wake of ‘extreme’ Storm Arwen

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has apologised to storm-hit residents in Aberdeenshire who are now into their sixth day without power.

The cabinet secretary for Covid recovery attended an organised meeting in Monymusk, Inverurie, on Wednesday to evaluate how the region is recovering from Storm Arwen.

Locals, as well as emergency services representatives, lined up in the hall to raise their concerns and provide an update on their efforts to restore the area to “normality”.

Mr Swinney was joined by Aberdeenshire Council chief-executive Jim Savege along with council leader Andy Kille as people shared their “horrible” experiences in the last five days.

John Swinney talking to residents. Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

Although some had been fortunate to have their power restored yesterday, many local residents – like hundreds of others in Aberdeenshire – remain without power or heating.

Alan and Angela Sibbald, who have been living in the village for nearly 30 years, said they have never experienced anything like it.

Mrs Sibbald said: “We were fortunate that we had a gas heater in at least one room and our son in Edinburgh helped us out so we were able to stay in the village. But there are some people who are really struggling.

“Coping with it emotionally and psychologically was difficult.

John Swinney talking to residents with Aberdeenshire Council Chief Executive Jim Savege. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

“Yesterday morning, I measured the temperature in our bedroom and in our fridge – and the bedroom was two degrees colder than the fridge.

“We were wearing wooly hats in bed, gloves in bed. We had enough to eat, but it was difficult to keep warm.”

Mr Swinney apologised for the “degree of suffering and hardship” they have experienced in the aftermath of the storm.

He said: “I understand entirely the frustrations and the concerns, and the hardship people have experienced and I’m sorry for that. I want to make sure we do everything we can in the short term to resolve those issues that is the absolute priority.

“The level of damage that has been inflicted on the power network is colossal, the engineers I was speaking to earlier today indicate that the number of incidents they are wrestling with is perhaps six or seven times the number than the largest storm we’ve had before.

“The recovery operation is taking time, I want to assure people of the determination to do that as swiftly as we possibly can do.”

Through speaking to the residents, Mr Swinney said he realised many are “dissatisfied” with the communication from power companies which is something he is keen to look into.

John Swinney talking to residents. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

He also explained that once the situation has stabilised they will begin to look at the resilience of power networks in Scotland and “discuss the lessons learned” in the wake of the storm.

“This is an extreme weather incident that we’ve faced,” he said,  “what we’ve got to make sure is that we have resilience in place as best we can do to deal with these instances.

“Of course, with the climate changing these become issues that we’ve to adapt to and to adjust to and of course as part of the lessons learned exercise we will look at all of these questions.”

Storm Arwen was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime event’

He was also joined by chief superintendent George Macdonald who praised north-east communities for their resilience and sense of community spirit.

Ch Supt Macdonald explained that it has been a “very challenging” time for the north-east and the damage caused by the storm was “unprecedented”.

George Macdonald North East Divisional Commander Police Scotland. Picture by Kami Thomson / DCT Media

The police have been working together with the councils, voluntary sector and utilities companies in a local resilience partnership.

They had been preparing for the storm since Friday before it arrived, however, he described it as a “once in a lifetime event” in terms of the scale of damage.

Ch Supt Macdonald said: “My best description is on Saturday morning we awoke to find a jigsaw puzzle which had been quite literally smashed to pieces. What we’ve been doing since Saturday morning is trying to piece those jigsaw puzzles together as quickly as we possibly can.

“The assurance and the reassurance we give them is that we are doing as much as we possibly can to get this resolved as quickly as we possibly can.”

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid recovery, spoke to divisional commander George Macdonald, as well as Cotag chairman Les Forbes. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

‘Significant progress has been made’

SSEN currently has thousands of workers on the ground and according to the Ch Supt they hope to restore power to most people by the weekend – if not sooner.
Although there has been delay in getting people back online, he said “significant progress” had been made.

“On Saturday morning we had around 70,000 people with no power and as of today, we are down to about 6,000 people that don’t have power,” he said.

John Swinney with Aberdeenshire Council Chief Executive Jim Savege talks to Stefano Giusti at the welfare unit at Monymusk. Picture by Kami Thomson/DCT Media.

“But, 6,000 people is a lot of people, particularly this time of year when it’s very very cold, it’s dark and we need to do as much as we possibly can to conclude this as quickly as we can to get them back to normality.”

In the meantime, there are rest centres available ensuring people can get warm food and facilities.

Les Forbes, chairman of Community Off-road Transport Action Group (Cotag) was also at the village square.

He explained that the response network has been concentrating on moving water around for people.

Work is ongoing to restore electricity after Storm Arwen.

Mr Forbes said: “Freshwater seems to be getting organised but it’s more the likes of sanitary water for people who need to flush the toilets and stuff and we’re trying to get that organised for various communities.”

However, he highlighted that the lack of communication has been an issue. Although there has been teams knocking on doors he fears many are not being told about food vans and other facilities available.

“Just look after your neighbour,” he urged.

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