Belfast Telegraph

60,000 homes face another night without water

More than 60,000 homes face a night without water in as engineers temporarily cut off supplies to allow depleted reservoirs to refill.

While progress has been made reconnecting properties left without any water during the burst pipes crisis, thousands more people, the majority in the east of the region, will have their supply switched off for up to 12 hours.

Around 2,600 homes are still without any supply at all, despite more than 2,500 being reconnected today.

But with water still pouring out of leaks in the system, under-fire Government-owned utility Northern Ireland Water (NIW) has had to extend its on/off rotation system to other homes in order to replenish reservoirs.

This is despite earlier expressing hope that the rotation would soon be discontinued.

While 500 NIW staff battled to restore supplies to the region's crippled system, vandals were blamed for emptying out almost 5,000 gallons of water from temporary tanks in one of the badly hit areas in Coalisland, Co Tyrone.

People arriving at bowsers at the Gortgonis Park centre to collect drinking water today found that the valves had been opened overnight. NIW replaced the tanks this afternoon.

"NI Water would condemn the vandalism which took place in Coalisland overnight which resulted in 5,000 gallons of water released from a water bowser," said a spokesman for the company.

Local Assembly member Francie Molloy echoed the comments.

"Why anyone would open valves knowing it would deprive their own community of water is beyond me," said the Sinn Fein representative. "It's absolutely crazy."

Away from Coalisland, the areas worst affected by the water failures are Cookstown, Co Tyrone, Hannahstown near Belfast, and Burren and Warrenpoint in Co Down.

Arctic weather conditions, followed by a sudden thaw, caused large numbers of burst pipes in buildings and in the mains supply, draining unprecedented amounts of water from the system.

Louth County Council in the Republic of Ireland has agreed to supply water from its treatment plant in Dundalk to its neighbouring local authority across the border in Newry and Mourne.

Initially, 10 tanker-loads of water - equivalent to 100 cubic metres - will be transported by NIW from Dundalk each day, with the emergency supply arrangement subject to continual review.

Des Foley, director of services at Louth County Council, said: "We currently have some spare capacity at our treatment plant in Dundalk and - having first prioritised the restoration of supply to locations within Louth - are now in a position to assist our colleagues at Newry & Mourne District Council in accessing a reliable and safe supply of water for homes and businesses in their area.

"This is a practical example of the type of co-operation that is ongoing between our local authorities and reflects the unprecedented challenges currently being faced around water supply."

The development came as the Scottish Executive continued to supply Northern Ireland with thousands of litres of bottled water to help cope with the crisis.

While NI Water has responsibility for leaking pipes on the main system, that responsibility ends when the supply enters properties.

However, many of the leaks are understood to be within unoccupied homes and businesses.

"NI Water would reiterate its appeal to customers to check their premises for any damage to pipes and repair these as soon as possible," said the NIW spokesman.

Stormont's Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy yesterday announced that an independent probe is to examine the causes of the crisis, but insisted that restoring water supplies to homes and businesses was the first priority.

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