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BBC NI's Gordon Adair reports
on the disruption caused by the weather
 real 28k

Tuesday, 27 February, 2001, 17:50 GMT
Severe weather conditions hit NI
Progress on the motorways were slow for commuters
Progress on the motorways was slow for commuters
Strong winds and heavy snowfalls have brought down power lines and caused widespread travel disruption across Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland Electricity has defended its handling of power cuts which have affected more than 70,000 homes, mostly in the east of the province.

The Meteorological Office has issued a severe weather warning forecasting more snow and gale-force winds later on Tuesday.

NIE restored power to 10,000 customers on Tuesday morning, but said it could not guarantee that everyone would be reconnected by the end of the day.

Speaking in the assembly on Tuesday, economy minister Sir Reg Empey said that he intended to conduct a 'post mortem' with NIE when the current emergency had passed.

There has been criticism of the company's staffing of its emergency helpline on 08457643643, on which many customers have only been able to get a recorded message.

Snow ploughs worked through the night to try to clear roads
Snow ploughs worked through the night to try to clear roads
Sinn Fein assembly member John Kelly said NIE had promised that the problems in their customer call handling system which accompanied heavy snow falls last December, had been eradicated.

The company spent 80m refurbishing the electricity network and 12m improving its customer services, 5m of which was on its call handling system.

However, NIE spokesman Robin Greer asked customers to be patient.

He said: "The combination of widespread snow and high winds has caused widespread damage to the network.

"We are doing everything possible to restore services, but we can't cope with a deluge of calls."

Flights cancelled

Meanwhile, Regional Development Minister Gregory Campbell said his department was doing its best to cope with the road difficulties brought on by the bad weather.

Mr Campbell said it was not always possible to guarantee access on every road.

He said that main roads in Northern Ireland were continuously re-salted during the night.

Many flights at both Belfast International and Belfast City airports were cancelled.

At the ports, Stena Line has suspended all of its sailings until further notice. Seacat also cancelled some services.

Exams disrupted

The police have warned that driving conditions are still hazardous in many areas and advised people only to travel if necessary. Many routes remain impassable.

Disruption on the roads was being compounded by fallen trees.

The bus and rail company Translink said there were delays on most of its services.

Dozens of schools were closed for the day. At some schools the weather caused disruption to exams.

Alastair Walker of the CCEA examinations body said it was asking schools to be flexible about their arrangements and allow pupils who had arrived late to school time to take their tests.

David Orr of the Road Traffic Service said snowploughs and gritters were working to keep as many roads as possible open.

The two main motorways the M1 and M2 were said to be passable with care.

Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have also been hit by the severe weather.

Up to 30,000 people are without electricity in Counties Louth, south Meath and north Dublin and Dublin all flights have been cancelled out of Dublin airport.

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See also:

27 Feb 01 | Scotland
Snow-hit Scotland grinds to a halt
28 Dec 00 | Northern Ireland
NI warning over 'treacherous' roads
26 Feb 01 | Northern Ireland
Suspicious object found on rail line
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