300 rescued from mountain blizzards
Published 31/03/2010 | 09:56
Heavy snow and winds caused overnight chaos in parts of the North with up to 300 people rescued from a mountain road after conditions overwhelmed vehicles.
The blizzard cut electricity to around 50,000 homes, while snowdrifts and fallen trees closed a large number of roads.
The police, coastguard, mountain rescue and Department of Environment launched a joint rescue operation after motorists became stranded when 3ft-high snowdrifts swept across the mountainous Glenshane Pass, a main route between Belfast and Derry.
Two evacuation centres were set up in Maghera and Dungiven in Co Derry to house the stranded, including schoolchildren whose bus had to be abandoned.
There were no reports of injuries, but a power cut to one of the rescue centres forced the authorities to move people to a leisure centre in nearby Limavady.
Police Chief Inspector Steve Cargin, who coordinated the rescue plan, said: "Treacherous blizzard conditions - I have certainly never experienced conditions like it.
"Really frightening conditions, not only for my officers and our support people, but for those people who were stranded in cars for such a long period of time, especially a busload of schoolchildren.
"Conditions - really strong gale-force winds, blizzards, snowdrifts of up to four feet. One of my officers said they saw this bump in the road and then realised it was actually a car. It was completely covered in snow. The conditions were just really unbelievable."
Flights were disrupted as the worst of the storm raged overnight, but as weather conditions improved, officials reported that blocked roads were being cleared and Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) said work was under way to restore power.
NIE's Sara McClintock said ice on power lines, combined with strong winds, brought down cables, adding: "We face a mammoth task in trying to fix over 600 individual faults with these prevailing conditions."