Pressure on the water supply network in Northern Ireland is at an all-time high because of burst pipes and running taps caused by the freezing weather.
The cold snap has taken its toll on the water supply, leaving thousands of householders and businesses struggling to get by without mains water.
And there is no sign of an end in sight to the province’s ice storm as the Met Office predicted that high winds in the next few days will make it “bitterly cold”.
Northern Ireland Water said a major incident team was co-ordinating response teams across Northern Ireland to find and fix burst water mains.
However, there has been bitter criticism of the response of Government departments to the situation which has left thousands having to take emergency measures to get water into their homes.
Supply to a number of areas has been significantly affected by minus temperatures, leading to water main bursts and bursts in homes.
Residents of rural areas and small towns, particularly in the west of the province, said they were isolated by icy, ungritted minor roads.
NI Water said it had received 4,000 calls to homes across Northern Ireland in 24 hours with problems concentrated in Omagh and Dungannon in Co Tyrone, Claudy, Dungiven and Limavady in Co Londonderry, and Ballymoney, Co Antrim.
A spokesman said problems were worsened by water running from burst pipes in unoccupied premises, and said owners should check premises for leaks and bursts and repair them if necessary.
He added: “We are grateful to customers for their continued patience while we try to restore supplies across Northern Ireland and we apologise to customers for any inconvenience. All that can be done in the current weather conditions is being done.”
East Derry SDLP MLA John Dallat said questions had to be asked about how Government departments implement emergency plans during the winter months.
He said: “Very few parts of the North have escaped the big freeze that has hit Ireland over the past week. Many businesses are opening after Christmas to find their water supplies cut off, while our roads are in a treacherous state.
“Any anger felt by the public should not be directed towards the workers who are working around the clock to restore some degree of normality to our infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.
“However, it would appear that whatever system is meant to be in place has once again failed everyone.
“The system, if you could call it that, didn't meet the most basic requirements for people to get around. From day one there were ominous signs that we were heading for trouble.”
While Mr Dallat praised the work of individual NI Water and Roads Service employees, he said the overall “system” for gritting had failed rural communities badly.
“From day one there were ominous signs that we were heading for trouble. Footpaths, which are basic to normal living remained ungritted and even when main routes were gritted it was clear that secondary roads were nowhere in the pecking order for any kind of attention.”
DUP MP Gregory Campbell said NI Water and Roads Service needed to ensure that they had enough workers to deal with the emergency.
He said he had received calls from constituents whose water had been cut off — including one couple who had been without water for 36 hours.
A Roads Service spokesman said the gritting of footpaths was the responsibility of councils.
The Met Office said it would feel cold and increasingly windy over the next few days. A Met Office spokesman said: “It will feel colder than it has been. The wind will gradually start to pick up and will reach 30mph. With that wind, and temperatures of around two degrees, it will feel bitterly cold.
“There’s an increasing chance of wintry showers of sleet and wet snow tomorrow, especially over Co Down and south Armagh.”
The coldest part of Northern Ireland on Sunday night was Katesbridge in Co Down at minus seven, while temperatures in Castlederg fell to minus six.
See also this report from THE SUN
Colder then Iceland