Belfast has total power outage as Northern Ireland bears brunt of weather
AN ONGOING snowstorm in Northern Ireland has forced the abandonment of a World Cup qualifying football match and seen electricity cut to more than 110,000 homes and businesses.
Northern Ireland's scheduled fixture against Russia at Windsor Park in Belfast tonight was postponed until tomorrow afternoon with the agreement of both teams' governing bodies.
Ground staff worked throughout the day in a bid to clear the pitch, but with the snow continuing to fall and the forecast remaining bleak, officials were left with little alternative but to reschedule to 3pm on Saturday.
By mid-afternoon, engineers from Northern Ireland Electricity (NIE) had managed to restore supply to around 65,000 customers but were still working to reconnect 48,000 who remained cut off.
The affected properties were mainly in counties Down and Antrim.
NIE said the damage to the network had been caused by ice on cables and trees bringing down lines and breaking poles.
The runway at George Best Belfast City Airport experienced a number of closures throughout the day due to the weather, while flights at Belfast International Airport were also disrupted.
More than 70 schools in the region were forced to shut for the day while commuters have faced hazardous conditions on the roads.
Snow drifts of up to 15.7in (40cm) have been reported.
NIE said hundreds of additional engineers had been deployed to deal with the effects of the 55mph storm-force winds and driving snow and sleet.
Julia Carson, NIE communications manager, said: "The restoration process has been steady throughout the day and we are working to restore the customers as quickly and safely as possible.
"However, the atrocious weather conditions have made access very difficult and the high winds, combined with snow and icing, are still causing damage to the network.
"We are doing everything we can to get everyone back on supply as quickly and safely as possible, and have brought in additional emergency crews from ESB (Electricity Supply Board) in the Republic of Ireland."
Phone lines and electricity supplies were down for a time at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast.
Wallace High School in Lisburn, Methodist College in Belfast, St Kieran's Nursery School in Poleglass, Ashgrove Nursery School in Newtownabbey, Assumption Grammar School in Ballynahinch, Harmony Hill Primary School in Lisburn, Antrim Grammar School, Moorfields Primary School in Ballymena and Fair Hill PS in Kinallen were among the schools that closed.
Laura Caldwell, weather forecaster with MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the snow would continue to fall through tonight and into tomorrow.
"There will be persistent falls of snow throughout today and it will be quite windy and cold," she said.
"It will take until tomorrow until it starts to ease slightly, though still expect further falls throughout the day.
"Things will ease away on Saturday night. Sunday will be pretty cloudy, though much drier."
Electricity problems can be reported to NIE on 08457 643 643.
At one stage tonight a blackout swept across the whole of Belfast.
NIE said an issue with the high voltage transmission network left the entire city without power just after 7.30pm.
Power was restored to most areas within a short period of time.
Meanwhile, the PSNI has continued to warn motorists about more road closures due to snow, stranded vehicles and fallen trees.
2Around 44,000 homes and businesses across Northern Ireland are still without electricity supplies, with Counties Down and Antrim worst affected.
Damage has been caused by high winds, cable icing and trees bringing down lines and breaking poles.
Ms Carson said further problems were expected overnight.
"The severe weather is set to continue through tonight and into tomorrow and we are likely to see further damage to the network which will affect electricity supplies," she added.
"Due to the particular weather conditions customers may notice brief dips in their lights on a regular basis. We would ask that customers do not phone in to report these dips and only contact us if their electricity is completely off."
A half marathon event due to take place in Larne tomorrow has also been postponed until next month because of the bad weather. A new date has not yet been confirmed.