Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Burst pipe chaos forces Ulster schools to close

Belfast Lord Mayor Pat Convery helps out with the delivery of fresh water supplies including bottled water just arrived from Scotland
A woman carries away a pack of bottles of Scottish water
An employee of Northern Ireland Water fills plastic containers for members of the public in North Belfast

A dozen schools in Northern Ireland were forced to close today due to damage caused by the burst pipes crisis.

The number was lower than initially feared at the height of the water shortages, with round-the-clock repairs enabling most to open as scheduled after the Christmas break.

However, with many schools not due to start classes again until tomorrow more closures could follow.

The leaks fiasco, which left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without water over parts of the festive period, was triggered when pipes frozen during an unprecedented pre-Christmas chill started to thaw.

Only 160 properties now remain off supply, with much-criticised Government-owned utility Northern Ireland Water (NIW) apparently finally getting to grips with the embarrassing emergency.

It was feared many classrooms affected by leaks might not be able to reopen, but Education Minister Caitriona Ruane confirmed that more or less all schools were ready for pupils returning after the holidays.

Before Christmas many of the region's schools closed because of the heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures.

She said: "We initially had several hundred incidents reported but close co-operation at all levels has greatly reduced this number, thus reducing the potential inconvenience to pupils."

Laurence MacKenzie, chief executive of NIW, remains under intense pressure to resign.

Conor Murphy, the Regional Development Minister, who has ultimate responsibility for the utility, has also faced demands to go.

Mr Murphy has ordered a full investigation into the crisis to identify failings.

A police helicopter and postal staff are helping to get supplies reinstated to customers who are still cut off.

The helicopter, fitted with thermal imaging technology, is being used to check for bursts on trunk mains in remote areas.

At the same time, the Post Office has agreed that its delivery staff will report any leakages that they find on their rounds.

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