Running on empty
> Soaring repair bills to spark big hike in premiums
> Hundreds of thousands face severe water shortages
HUNDREDS of thousands of households are facing weeks without water or severe restrictions to supply.
The surge in temperatures has left a trail of destruction, with burst pipes and leaks destroying property and draining scarce water reserves.
An "unprecedented" loss of water in the Dublin region came as some reservoirs hit "rock bottom".
The cost of repairs is likely to be massive, and household insurance premiums could rise by as much as 15pc in the wake of an avalanche of claims, industry experts said last night.
The entire country now faces weeks of water restrictions, low pressure and loss of supply due to massive losses of water during the big thaw.
Virtually no home, business or public amenity will escape periodic cut-offs or restricted access to water as local authorities race around the clock to restore dwindling reservoirs.
Problems to supplies have been reported in a raft of counties including Cork, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Kildare, Laois, Sligo and Westmeath. Residents across Dublin were warned to expect widespread night-time water restrictions as a record 130 million litres of water were lost over the past two days -- equivalent to 650,000 bathtubs full.
In the greater Dublin region alone, all 1.5 million residential and commercial consumers will experience some degree of inconvenience well into the new year, according to Brian Smyth, Dublin City Council's head of water services.
"Virtually the entire region will be affected," he said.
Dublin City Council said that while 554.2 million litres of water had been produced in 24 hours, demand was running at 624.7 million litres.
"If we combine the impact of the last two days there has been a loss of 130 million litres in storage," said a spokesman.
"This is unprecedented and the worst two-day event on record. The rapid thaw is having an extremely serious effect.
"Temperatures have changed by almost 25 degrees over three days. We have mobilised all crews to both identify leaks and to deal with burst pipes."
Members of the public have been urged to conserve water and report any leaks to councils, while engineers are working to restore the water supply to thousands of homes
And homeowners were warned that insurance premium rises are now highly likely as the industry deals with a raft of claims for leaks and flooding.
Earlier this month, Ciaran Phelan, chief executive of the Irish Brokers Association, had predicted a hike in premiums of 10pc because of claims associated with November's big freeze.
The combination of the two severe weather events would now mean possible premium rises of up to 15pc, he said.
In the past 12 months alone, home-insurance costs have already shot up by 14.5pc, according to the Central Statistics Office.
Mr Phelan said: "It is an inevitable consequence of a prolonged spell of weather conditions like Ireland has been experiencing over the last week that there will be a significant rise in claims."
The crisis has mainly been caused by the rupturing of old cast-iron pipes as a result of shifting ground due to the thaw.
A dramatic shift in temperature from an average of -15C overnight on Christmas Day, up to 10C yesterday, has caused local authority water mains and private underground pipes to burst across the country.
"Leakage is the problem at the minute. Demand is exceeding our supply," Mr Smyth said. "The water is drawing down quicker than we can fill it."
And despite pleas from local authorities during the recent cold snap not to leave taps running, this was still to blame for the massive draw on supplies.
In order to replenish supplies before businesses and schools re-open next week, restrictions in water supply -- resulting in both low pressure and temporary loss of supply -- were imposed across the greater Dublin area from 6pm last night until noon today.
Rotating restrictions will be in place for the foreseeable future and could go on for several weeks, Mr Smyth added.
The same scenario is being played out in virtually all cities, towns and rural areas across the country.
In Cork city, water restrictions were imposed between 7pm last night and 10am today in various areas experiencing high levels of leakage. The same restrictions will be in place again tonight. Local authorities in Galway are warning residents to expect low pressure and possible loss of supply.
Limerick city has so far managed to escape any major restrictions, despite a 50pc increase on demand since Christmas.But about 33,000 homes in Co Limerick were facing some disruption to supply yesterday. "It's extensive. Almost everyone in the county is affected to some extent," said Limerick County Council's Director of Services Paul Crowe.
"Supplies in the reservoir are now critically low and we need to get supplies in the reservoir back to normal levels through night-time restrictions," he said.