Thousands with no water in North after mains burst

 

THOUSANDS OF people across Northern Ireland were without water yesterday because of burst water mains and dry and depleted reservoirs.

Politicians complained of the problem being exacerbated by a failure of Northern Ireland Water to keep people properly informed of the situation.

Several parts of Belfast were badly hit by what NI Water described as an “unprecedented” strain on its system. Other areas affected included Lisburn, Armagh, Lurgan, Coleraine, Antrim, Newtownabbey, Templepatrick and Coalisland.

NI Water was attempting to deliver bottled water to people affected, while many shops ran out of water as struggling householders tried to get supplies.

Charitable groups were making water deliveries to vulnerable people, while Belfast City Council was arranging to provide water at centres in north, west, south and east Belfast.

Sinn Féin Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Minister for Regional Development Conor Murphy visited some affected areas yesterday. Mr McGuinness said the Executive would examine the Financial Assistance Act to “see how we can address the financial hardship of those who are most in need over this period”.

Mr Murphy said NI Water had issued prior warnings about burst pipes following the thaw. “I think there has been even more severe strain on the system than expected, but what they need to do is get down to dealing with this as quickly as they can,” he said.

There were many complaints from people saying they were unable to contact NI Water to get information on their areas. The company said it was trying to deal with an “unprecedented” level of queries and problems, and was regularly updating its website. A spokesman said extra staff were busy trying to resolve difficulties.

“We have got 300 people out on the ground basically working around the clock to deal with the high level of burst water mains.”

He added that company engineers had said leaks at businesses, domestic dwellings, schools and caravan sites were putting great strain on resources. “Engineers have appealed for people to check their properties and businesses for leaks and to get them repaired.”

SDLP Assembly member Conall McDevitt repeated his call for an emergency meeting of the Northern Executive to be convened to develop a cross-departmental co-ordinated plan to address the problem.

“It is time for the chief executive of Northern Ireland Water and Minister Murphy to explain publicly what they are doing to improve the organisation’s response to this crisis,” he said.

Ulster Unionist MLA Sir Reg Empey said people faced “desperate” problems. “This inability to respond is not isolated; it seems to happen every year. There are families in large parts of my own East Belfast constituency which have no water available to them,” he said. “As a country we seem unable and unprepared to deal with emergencies. Recent flooding is the most obvious example.”

Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said the situation was totally unacceptable. “I have spent most of yesterday and today trying to get through to NI Water and have received numerous calls for help from people in east Belfast, including older persons, disabled persons and a nursing home, all without water since Christmas Day,” he said.