Around 200 families have spent the night out of their homes after being evacuated during a security alert in north Belfast.
Residents from the Oldpark area of the city were asked to leave their homes yesterday after a major police and Army operation was launched.
The operation came in response to a warning call received by the Samaritans on Monday night indicating a suspicious device had been abandoned somewhere in the area.
A number of streets cordoned off yesterday afternoon remained closed last night, including Hillview Road and sections of the Oldpark Road and Rosapenna Street. Superintendent Amanda Cooke said the police were being cautious in their handling of the alert.
She explained it took them time to clear people from their homes because the warning received did not include a recognised code word.
“Ardoyne Community Centre and Belfast Resilience are involved to make sure things are as comfortable as possible for members of the community.
“We have information that was called to the Samaritans, that there may be a suspect device in the area at the junction of Rosapenna Street and the Oldpark Road. Experience has shown us that very often these calls are made and aren’t substantiated.
“We need to look and see is something there and then move in slowly. We need to ensure everyone is safe. Public safety is my number one priority here.” Superintendent Cooke said the PSNI had learnt lessons from their handling of a security alert on the Antrim Road in north Belfast during January.
“A suspect device could be anything and it has taken many forms in the past. We have put up helicopters to take pictures of the ground and see what we find.
“We are very, very concerned, which is why we have been slow about going in. Secondary devices were left on the Antrim Road, so we are being very careful about our approach.”
The PSNI confirmed at this stage there is no indication their operation is linked to reports of gunfire and the discovery of bullet casings in the Oldpark area at Glenview Street on Monday night.
Several residents, including a parish nun, heard at least four shots being fired, but no injuries or damage to properties has been reported.
Sister Carmel from the Sacred Heart chapel in Glenview Street had been on her way to a local shop and thought the noise was fireworks.
She said after hearing the bangs she saw a man removing surgical gloves while coming out of the church grounds. Before walking off, he told her: “That's it finished now.”
SDLP councillor Nichola Mallon said the people of north Belfast are becoming increasingly worried. “Residents I am speaking to are shocked. There has been talk of it being an attempt to perhaps lure others to the area. People are tense about sinister elements being involved,” she said.