As thaw looms, drivers warned over damage to roads caused by ice and gritting
Northern Ireland may be emerging from the sub-zero temperatures of the Beast from the East and the ravages of Storm Emma, but motorists are being warned the worst is yet to come.
For melting snow and ice are wreaking havoc on the roads, with drivers facing pothole pandemonium and experts warning it will take up to £4 million to fully repair the most recent damage to our highways and byways.
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The bill to complete the backlog of maintenance required on all arterial routes across the province was already £1bn - and that was before the weather damage.
In addition to flooding fears and burst pipes, the rapidly deteriorating infrastructure has led to roads here being branded the worst in the UK, not to mention a potential threat to safety.
The Met Office issued a yellow (be aware) weather warning for snow and ice until 11pm tonight, but forecaster Stuart Brooks said the worst of the cold snap weather has passed.
There may still be a few light flurries of snowfall from Sunday into Monday he said, but in general, things were warming up.
"Daytime temperatures will now begin to rise slowly, and the easterly wind speeds are waning," he said.
"Night time temperatures will still fall to at or just below freezing point, but the slow thaw will reduce the snow cover over the next couple of days.
"Because it's not a rapid thaw, there is little risk of flooding."
But Translink said last night that with another red weather warning in place for the Republic, cross-border rail and bus services today will be subject to conditions and may be delayed or cancelled.
"The first cross-border Enterprise trains are now expected to run tomorrow at 12.35pm from Belfast Central and 1.20pm from Dublin Connolly, however, this is subject to weather conditions. It is intended to continue to operate Enterprise services between Belfast and Newry," it said.
"An assessment of road conditions will also take place in the morning and decisions will be taken on X1 and X2 services from Belfast and X3 and X4 cross border services from Derry~Londonderry."
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, roads expert Dr Wesley Johnston said he expects Northern Ireland's pothole problem to be much worse in the aftermath of the ferocious winter spell of the last three days.
"The underlying problem is that we're simply not spending enough on road maintenance and we haven't done for many years now," he said.
"In terms of road repairs, before this particular spell of bad weather, if you were going to complete the backlog of maintenance, such as resurfacing, you're talking about £1bn."
Quarry Products Association regional director Gordon Best said the sub-zero temperatures and blizzard conditions will cost millions of pounds in road repairs.
"It will take between £3-4m extra to deal with the massive damage to the whole of the network brought about by the recent exceptional weather conditions," he said.
"Under normal circumstances a season's salting and gritting would normally deteriorate the road network and, now we have these exceptional circumstances, it's going to be worse.
"We haven't maintained the network so we're having to repair so many potholes, but the bad weather and the increased salting is weakening those potholes so the pothole repairs aren't lasting as long.
"This season, for example, they have repaired a stretch of potholes on the road from Carncastle to Millbrook three times; that's just money down the drain. At this moment Northern Ireland has the worst roads in the UK."
The severe weather, meanwhile, forced more than 400 schools to close, and shops that had pulled their shutters down early on Thursday, including Dunnes Stores in Belfast, stayed shut.
Several rural routes were blocked by deep snow and remote communities were cut off, with district nurses Breige Magee and Terese McMullan being transported by tractor to house calls in Downpatrick.
The newly christened 'South Eastern Trust Snow Heroes' were unable to drive their cars after several centimetres of snow fell, so Terese's husband gave up work on the farm for a day to ensure they made their calls.
Newtownhamilton native Kerry-Ann McGeown had to leave her car at the bottom of the drive on Wednesday night after a hefty snowfall engulfed the Co Armagh village - and last night she confirmed it was still stuck there.
The 33-year-old mother of two sons Eoghan (3) and Emmett (1), also revealed the family only found out the local shops had ran out of bread and milk after a neighbour who was driving a tractor called and offered to fetch shopping for them.
"It has been snowing so heavily since Wednesday we're still knee-deep in it and all we can see are huge snow drifts everywhere because it has been so windy all day," she said.
"My husband Stephen works in Dublin, but he has been at home since Wednesday because there's a red weather alert in place there."
She added: "In addition to shops being out of bread and milk and local farmers showing community spirit by clearing roads and driveways, it's been an adventurous few days to say the least."