Published Monday, 27 December 2010
In the past five days NI Water has received 14,000 calls from households and businesses as frozen pipes begin to thaw and breakages show.
One of the hardest hit areas is Coalisland in Co Tyrone, where almost every home is without water due to a nearby reservoir running dry.
Residents are without water for drinking, cooking, flushing toilets or heating, and are told it could take 48 hours before the problem is fixed.
Local man Dessie Donnelly is amongst those affected. He has told UTV his wife is seriously ill on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
"She can't cope with this at all," Mr Donnelly said. "She's in bed all the time trying to keep warm. Her blood count has dropped to 11, if it drops another point, she'll be in hospital for dialysis."
Mid Ulster MLA Francie Molloy says he understands it may take at least two days for the supply to refill.
"We're told the reservoir is completely dry," he told UTV. "The supply into it is also fractured in a number of ways, which means it's not filling up again and the drain out of it means there's no supply coming in and unlikely for 48 hours in some cases."
NI Water has been responding to the problem over the past few weeks, but spokesman Ian Glass says there has been an "unprecedented" number of bursts reported.
"This is the worst I've ever experienced in my time with Northern Ireland Water," he told UTV. "We have repaired 400-500 bursts in the last couple of weeks. The demand on supply is unprecedented from burst pipes and people running taps."
The company has been providing bottled water from stations in Londonderry, Belfast, Craigavon, Strabane and other locations around Northern Ireland on Monday.
Extra call-centre staff have been brought in across the board to deal with an influx of calls to the emergency line.
A statement said: "Due to the unprecedented high volume of calls a number of customers have experienced a longer waiting time than usual and we apologise for this inconvenience."
The minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, says he has been monitoring the situation.
"I have been receiving on-going updates from NI Water on how it is dealing with interruptions to water supplies across a number of areas as a result of the ongoing thaw," a statement from the minister said.
"The Chief Executive has informed me they have brought in extra call handlers to deal with the volume of calls and that staff are working around the clock to repair bursts to water mains and restore water supplies to their customers, as quickly as possible."
Work is currently being carried out in the Newry area, Armagh city and Belfast, with water expected to be restored to these parts by Monday evening.
"Our teams are on site and working as quickly as possible to repair these bursts and restore water supply to customers," a statement from NI Water said.
"To enable our staff to carry out essential repairs on these burst water mains & recharge the water network, some customers in these areas may experience a temporary loss of supply or drop in water pressure."
Meanwhile the Roads Service said no salting operations have been carried out overnight as the remaining slush thaws.
The northbound onslip to the M2 motorway at Templepatrick was closed for a time on Monday morning due to ice, but has now reopened.
Many gullies remain blocked with frozen ice resulting in accumulation of excess water on many routes, and drivers are advised to remain extremely vigilant.
© UTV News
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