Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland’s councils set emergency aid plans in motion due to big freeze

Northern Ireland’s councils are preparing emergency shelter for those severely affected by the extreme weather.

The record-breaking conditions have resulted in frozen and burst pipes and many people in the province have been left without heat, electricity or running water.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots yesterday said he was concerned about the number of people who had been left without essential services and said councils must be ready to cater for those who may be in need of their help.

His department has been speaking with the Local Government Emergency Management Group (LGEMG) and other emergency responders to ensure measures are in place to provide critical aid and shelter for those affected by the cold snap.

These plans include opening council properties as emergency reception facilities for those in need. Councils and their staff are also on standby to assist lead |agencies providing emergency help.

Mr Poots said: “Many people, including senior citizens and families with small children, are facing Christmas without any heat or running water. They can’t live in those circumstances for days while they wait on a thaw.

“I have therefore requested that councils be prepared to open humanitarian centres, if required, to cater for the needs of these people over the Christmas period and beyond,” he said.

LGEMG chairwoman Anne Donaghy said: “All year long, along with the Department of the Environment and the civil contingency groups and other agencies, we in councils plan for any emergencies that may come up and we are prepared in terms of acting to help citizens.”

Following the request by minister Poots, Castlereagh Borough Council held an urgent meeting of its management team.

A council spokeswoman said: “If necessary the council is ready to activate its emergency plan and make arrangements to open humanitarian centres within the borough if required by any of the statutory agencies.

“At this stage there is no indication that this will be necessary in Castlereagh, although the situation will be continually monitored,” she said.

Yesterday Mr Poots also expressed concern over very high levels of air pollution across Northern Ireland.

The minister said that freezing weather been a factor in the rise in levels of air pollution.

Emissions from vehicles and home heating systems had built up in the air during the calm, cold weather conditions across Northern Ireland. These conditions are forecast to continue until Boxing Day.

Areas which are particularly bad are Londonderry, Cookstown and Armagh. High levels have also been recorded in Newry, Lisburn and Belfast. These areas are being monitored on a regular basis.

Those with heart or lung diseases, including asthma, may be affected by the increased air pollution but healthy people are unlikely to experience any ill-effects.

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