A MILITARY helicopter used in artic conditions to drop in military personnel was being tasked on Tuesday afternoon to drop in food for stranded animals in rural Northern Ireland.
The RAF CH-47 twin-engined Chinook helicopter touched down at Aldergrove flight deck in Co Antrim around 12.30 pm after leaving its base in Hampshire, England.
Following a refuelling, the troop and vehicle carrying copter was loaded up with essential animal feed from Greenmount Agricultural College.
An aerial intelligence gathering helicopter had earlier spent hours relaying information back to the Department of Agriculture and emergency services on where the animals were most at risk.
A member of their team will travel with the Chinook crew to tell them exactly where to drop the feed.
It is thought the Glens of Antrim will be the first area on the list.
Some parts of Co Down have also been badly affected by heavy, drifting snow.
Belfast Daily understands that a farmer in Dromara lost more than half his livestock during the freak blizzard conditions.
A relative told Belfast Daily: “After hearing the forecast, he went out on Thursday night with his son and round up about 200 or so sheep and lambs and brought them indoors.
“But there was another 300 still out there but he just couldn’t physcically bring them in as the weather was turning so bad.
“He got up the next day and the snow in the fields was higher than the gates and hedges.
“He thinks he has lost the lot, especially the young lambs. It is devastating for him because this is his livelihood.”
Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said on Tuesday that she would press for a hardship payment for farmers at an Executive meeting.
“It is only fair and right to see whether there is a hardship or compensation payment that can be made. After all, we are depending on these people to produce our food,” she told BBC NI’s Good Morning Ulster.
It is not clear how many animals have been killed in the extreme weather conditions. Ms O’Neill said it was too early to speculate.
“It is a severe situation,” she said.
“People have said that this is worse than 1963. Some of the scenes are harrowing – to see farmers bring in sheep that have died in the snow. People are angry and concerned.”
The minister paid tribute to the sense of community and the way people worked together in the crisis.
“We have an animal welfare issue,” she added.
“Farmers need a food drop. We have a surveillance helicopter so that we can see where the livestock are and then we have an MoD helicopter which is prepared to make a food drop.”
Immediate practical issues for farmers include the disposal of dead livestock. The agriculture minister said she would also be talking to the banks as farmers affected were not going to be able to have the income they expected.
Medication and food are already being delivered by helicopter to people left snowbound by the severe weather.
The emergency services, Red Cross, RAF and others are working together to provide basic supplies to people snowed in for days.
On Tuesday morning, Northern Ireland Electricity reported that power had been restored to all but one household affected by the severe weather conditions.
It worked to restore power to more than 137,000 customers over the weekend. Thousands lost their supply due to strong winds and heavy snow.
The organisations working together include the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, mountain rescue teams, Roads Service and Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service.
Representatives from local councils, electricity providers, health providers and volunteers are also involved.
Many sheep farmers have been unable to get food supplies to their livestock.
Farmer Campbell Tweed, from Cairncastle, near Larne, in County Antrim, said some of his sheep were getting their first feed in four days.
“Road conditions are just incredibly bad. There’s places where the snow at the side of the road is higher than the vehicles,” he said.
“It’s coming late in a very, very tough winter – it’s just putting the tin hat on for many of us.”
The Territorial Army has also been asked to help clear roads.
Abandoned cars have been causing disruption on some roads.
About 100 people still had problems with their water supplies at 20:00 GMT on Monday.
Belfast Trust said some operations which were scheduled for Monday had been cancelled as a result of the bad weather.
Most planned surgery went ahead.