HUNDREDS of homes have been left without phone or internet access for a fortnight after metal thieves targeted underground cables.
The yobs struck twice within days in Murton, the first attack cutting off an estimated 360 customers while the second hampered repairs.
Engineers from BT are now working round the clock to restore services, which have been down since July 27, and are hopeful they could be up-and-running again by the weekend.
A spokesman for the firm said: “We had replaced the cable and repaired the connection when another section was stolen on August 2. It was a fairly substantial amount.
“We also had to stop work for a short while when a gas main was found.
“We apologise to our customers and we hope to restore services as soon as possible.”
The company is also urging residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour in or around street cabinets or manhole covers.
It said it used coded paint and SmartWater to protect its network from thieves.
“We are not the only victims of this kind of criminal activity,” said the spokesman. “Many other organisations are being targeted by the thieves and it appears to be a growing problem.
“Not only is it a financial drain on the company - we have engineers working round the clock to correct the problem in Murton - there is also the disruption and inconvenience caused to customers.”
Householders today spoke of their anger at the loss of services.
Grandad Robert Sims, 70, from Station Estate North, Murton, said: “There was no warning about any of this and we’ve heard next to nothing since it happened. Most of us thought it would only be off a few days at the most, but it has gone on and on and on.
“And it’s not just us.
“It’s the whole area.”
Mr Sims, a retired driver, said the disruption has caused chaos.
“You don’t realise how much you miss it until it goes,” he said. “It turns your life upside down.
“I’ve got a relative who is abroad at the minute and it is next to impossible to get in touch.
“You can use a mobile, but it costs an absolute fortune and the reception is often terrible.
“I’ve also got a relative who is due to come out of hospital soon and we’re having terrible problems arranging for a time to pick her up.
“We’re having to go there in person to sort things out beforehand.”
The incidents have been reported to Durham Police.