DRIVING wind and snow has left 35,000 homes and businesses without power in Northern Ireland on Saturday.
Some of the worst snow falls seen in years has left the province in the middle of a spate of power cuts not seen in around 15 years.
On Friday night, 200,000 homes in Belfast went into a blackout when a transmitter problem cut off electricity for up to 20 minutes.
And on Saturday, Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Russia at Windsor Park was called off for a second time by the referee because of heavy ice.
The Met Office has downgraded its weather warning from amber to yellow, with further lighter snowfalls over counties Down and Antrim expected to continue into the afternoon.
It is still bitterly cold with fresh or strong easterly winds, with widespread frost and icy stretches expected on Saturday night.
A weather warning for ice will be in place across Northern Ireland overnight.
Over 100,000 homes and businesses have been affected by prolonged power cuts since the blizzard conditions began in the early hours of Friday.
Treacherous road conditions have resulted in multiple closures while many other roads have proved impassable due to snow, fallen trees, flooding and stranded vehicles.
The Roads Service says north-eastern parts remain the worst affected with heavy drifting of snow recorded on Saturday morning.
“Areas including Antrim, Ballymoney, Moyle and Larne have experienced severe drifting in excess of 1m deep of snow. Snow ploughs are inadequate in circumstances like these and the snow has to be excavated out and deposited off the carriageway,” a spokesman explained.
“In the greater Belfast area, Lisburn, Castlereagh and Newtownabbey have experienced heavy snow falls and a number of roads remain closed.
“Flooding has also caused problems particularly in the Castlewellan, Rathfriland and Rostrevor areas where a number of roads remain closed.”
The Roads Service says additional resources, including private contractors with tractor ploughs and excavators, have been deployed.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Electricity engineers restored power to 5,000 homes overnight in “atrocious” conditions, with teams struggling to access faults.
Sara McClintock, from NIE, said: “The storm continued throughout the night and so conditions on the ground remain atrocious in many areas.
“Abandoned cars and very deep snow in rural areas are making access to parts of the network extremely difficult even with 4×4 vehicles. Heavy icing on lines with no prospect of an immediate thaw is also hampering repair efforts.
Repair teams from Scotland and the Republic of Ireland are helping NIE engineers, while crews from Omagh and Fermanagh have been redeployed to the worst hit eastern areas.
The company says over 500 engineers and lines staff are now working on the ground in rural areas, including around Ballyclare, Larne, Bangor and Downpatrick.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s airports, which are open, remain badly affected by flights delays.
Belfast International Airport says the weather is “continuing to cause problems” and “delays can be expected”.
A spokesperson for George Best Belfast City Airport says it is “operational this morning”.
“Passengers should expect some delays due to knock on effects from yesterday’s disruption”.
“Passengers are still advised to check with their airline for the latest on their flight status and also to check the airports website and social media pages including Facebook and Twitter for any further updates”.
Translink says services may also be subject to delays, cancellations and disruption “due to adverse weather conditions”.
On Friday night police issued an urgent warning to motorists not to travel anywhere in Northern Ireland “unless absolutely necessary”.
It came after a blackout swept across the greater Belfast area and left around 200,000 homes and businesses temporarily without power – also disrupting traffic lights.
Northern Ireland Electricity are investigating after the worst outage the city experienced in decades.
The widespread power cut, which lasted up to one hour in some places, was caused by a major fault on the transmission network.
NIE says serious damage to the network has been caused by cable icing and trees bringing down lines and breaking poles, with the clean-up operation likely to take a number of days.