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Water scarce in N. Ireland; burst pipes blamed

By Peter Taggart, For CNN
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Thousands without water in N. Ireland
  • Some residents report they haven't had water for 9 days
  • Northern Ireland Water says reservoirs are "at low water levels"
  • The company is the target of criticism

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- Thousands of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland have been left without running water, some for more than a week, as a result of what the Belfast government called "an unprecedented number of burst pipes caused by the continuing thaw."

Some residents report they have been without water for up to nine days, and charities were being drafted to help distribute emergency supplies of bottled water in Belfast.

Several reservoirs were reported to have run dry after pipes were damaged in the thaw. The government company Northern Ireland Water issued a statement Tuesday saying it was alternating supplies from reservoirs in a bid to give every area a limited supply.

"As a result of the high water demand being experienced (primarily due to a number of bursts to private supplies), a number of our reservoirs are currently at low water levels and we are trying to rezone and recharge the water network," the statement said.

"NI Water have to alternate supplies from our reservoirs therefore customers will experience a loss of water for a period of time," the company said. "However it is anticipated that this interruption will only last a number of hours and water will be restored to customers in a timely manner."

The company has been handing out packs of bottled water but there is growing criticism of its performance in what is being branded "a water shortage crisis" by Northern Ireland media.

Northern Ireland Water had received some 6,000 emergency calls as of Monday, said spokesman Paddy Cullen. He said he could not say how many homes were affected.

Supplies of bottled water at a Belfast depot ran out within a short period, but new supplies were to be sent Tuesday afternoon.

Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness spoke to angry residents Tuesday and admitted lessons had to be learned with new procedures put in place "to help ensure a similar situation doesn't happen again."