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Northern Ireland improving water supply to residents after crisis

From Peter Taggart, For CNN
Some customers in Northern Ireland said they had not had running water for more than 10 days.
Some customers in Northern Ireland said they had not had running water for more than 10 days.
  • 799 customers remain without water, state-funded company says
  • Northern Ireland Water has drawn criticism for its handling of the crisis
  • More disruptions expected Sunday night as reservoirs are filled

Belfast, Northern Ireland (CNN) -- The number of properties lacking running water in Northern Ireland has dwindled to fewer than 1,000, state-funded water company Northern Ireland Water said Sunday.

As of Saturday, the number was about 2,600, the company said. About 45,000 properties may still have limited water supplies Sunday night, compared to 60,000 on Saturday night. The disruption would cut supplies overnight as reservoirs are refilled.

Many customers have been without running water for nearly a week, and some said they have not had water supply for more than 10 days. The shortage was blamed on the bursting of several major water pipes in a rapid thaw that followed record low temperatures last week. The company has said a number of pipes burst when the temperature rose from minus 16 to 10 degrees Celsius (3 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit) "within a matter of hours."

The number of customers without water stood at 799 on Sunday, the company said, and 276 have a temporary supply.

Northern Ireland Water has drawn criticism from government officials, who held an emergency meeting on the situation last week. The company's interim chairman, Padraic White, said its response to the "unprecedented situation" was "unacceptable."

"There remains a considerable demand for water arising from leaks on customers' private installations," the company said in a statement Sunday. "Throughout this incident, NI Water has consistently reiterated the need for customers to check their premises for any damage to their own private infrastructure and to repair this as soon as possible. Failure to do so simply adds to the water supply problems for other customers."

The company asked customers to refrain from using garden hoses and washing cars. Some 500 staffers have been working to restore water service to those without supply, and the company was contacting customers in the affected areas to keep them apprised of the situation, Northern Ireland Water said.

Company officials have also complained about a lack of investment in the water infrastructure over the years.

Reservoir levels in the greater Belfast area remain low, the company said. Schools are expected to resume this week and next, and the company is "confident there will be very few, if any, schools affected due to interruptions on the main water supply system," the statement said. "However, many schools will have suffered damage to their internal infrastructure and we understand these are currently being located and repaired."

Northern Ireland Water is working with the Department of Education, and more information on schools was expected.

Water restrictions were also continuing in the Republic of Ireland, where local authorities in many areas had to limit supply because of burst pipes after the freeze.