An RAF helicopter is beginning its aid flights to some of the rural areas of Northern Ireland hardest hit by snow.
The Agriculture Minister Michell O’Neill confirmed on Tuesday morning that the Ministry of Defence had agreed to provide helicopter assistance to farmers who have had animals trapped and killed by the severe weather conditions faced since the end of last week.
The heavy lift aircraft, a Chinook, landed at Aldergrove from mainland UK early this afternoon and, after fueling and loading with livestock feed, will begin delivery flights.
“The extreme weather conditions have had a devastating effect on Northern Ireland’s famers and it’s absolutely vital that we provide any support we can. So I’m extremely pleased that we were able to answer the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s request for a military helicopter to get food on the ground for stranded animals. It is beginning work this afternoon, and a surveillance helicopter is being deployed to help trace missing livestock.
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers said she was pleased the British Government was able to assist.
“The extreme weather conditions have had a devastating effect on Northern Ireland’s farmers and it’s absolutely vital that we provide any support we can. So I’m extremely pleased that we were able to answer the Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill’s request for a military helicopter to get food on the ground for stranded animals. It is beginning work this afternoon, and a surveillance helicopter is being deployed to help trace missing livestock.
“We continue to keep the situation under close watch and will do all we can to respond to requests to help local communities which are struggling with blocked roads and transport issues. The Police and mountain rescue teams are also doing all they can to reach isolated farms.”
On Monday Paul Frew, DUP chair of the Agriculture committee urged the department to bring in the Territorial Army as the snow crisis continued.
Northern Ireland Electricity confirmed that they expected power to be restored to all homes by Monday evening. At one point more than 130,000 customers were left without electricity at the weekend.
Meanwhile Red Cross volunteers across Northern Ireland have spent the past four days providing wide ranging support to the emergency services and Health and Social Care Trusts.
Since Friday, volunteers have provided 4x4 transport assistance to healthcare workers and volunteers have also transported 30 nurses to work in the Royal Victoria, Mater, City and Musgrave Park hospitals.
The charity said its emergency arrangements with other organisations including Tesco NI, Donnelly & Taggart and the NI 4x4 Network have also been activated, enabling Red Cross volunteers to access food, bottled water and other essential supplies for snow-bound households and to transport them in a fleet of all-terrain vehicles.
In North Antrim the Red Cross emergency protocol with Tesco meant a family with a six week old baby were provided with baby milk, nappies, firewood and medication as supplies were running low after several days of snow and power cuts.
Red Cross volunteer, Jock Magowan, who was deployed to assist the PSNI with the distribution of food parcels in the Glens of Antrim said the scale of the weather is shocking.
“The snow in Glenarm was extremely deep and hard to walk through,” he said. “We were sinking into drifts up to the chest. The PSNI’s search and rescue teams were using snow shoes to walk into the worst areas. I brought a food parcel to a man who hadn’t seen a soul for four days and whose electricity had only just come back on.”
The Red Cross’ local Operations Director, Sharon Sinclair, said: “It has been a busy few days and we anticipate continuing our response for another 48 hours or more if there remain humanitarian needs which we can meet. I would like to thank all of our volunteers for their work since Friday and also our corporate partners whose support has been so important to maintain our response.”