SNOW BUSINESS

Derry is facing further traffic chaos after the city was gridlocked by yesterday's heavy snowfall.

Many schools and businesses are to remain closed this morning after they were forced to shut early yesterday as up to 20cm of snow fell in the worst hit areas of the North West. Severe weather warnings were issued for the region as the deep freeze continued throughout the night with temperatures plummetting as low as 10 C. Motorists were being warned last night not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

Derry City Centre was virtually at a standstill yesterday lunchtime with public offices and many business also closing early. Motorists travelling on the city's main arteries were forced to endure long delays throughout the afternoon while several minor road traffic accidents were reported across the region. Derry City Council's Strand Road Offices were closed at 3pm as a result of the "severe weather warning" for the area. Leisure centre were also shut at Templemore, Lisnagelvin, William Street and Brandywell. The City, Altnagelvin and Ballyoan Cemeteries were closed with access arrangements restricted to accommodate funeral arrangements only.

The council spokesperson added that all refuse services were affected across the council area. "Country areas around Claudy are completely inaccessible while many areas in and around the city centre are also proving difficult. The council is appealing to the public to be patient, we are endeavouring to do our best at this difficult time. Commercial customers are also being affected by services today."

Staff at City of Derry Airport worked frantically yesterday to clear snow from the runway as flights were delayed and diverted due to the weather conditions. A spokesperson urged passengers to check with the airlines for the latest updates.

Community and voluntary workers braved the treacherous conditions in mercy missions to bring food and support to elderly residents in the city. In the Bogside, Brandywell, Creggan and Fountain areas 'Operation Snowball'- a winter programme to assist older people or those who need help in wintry conditions - was out in force throughout the weekend. Sinn Fin Councillor Colin Kelly commended the volunteers: "A number of elderly people had difficulty getting to St Eugene's for Mass and the shop so within an hour they got about twenty people out to help put down salt and clear the footpaths."

Meanwhile Gardai in Inishowen and other members of the caring professions have urged people living in isolated or rural areas to check on their neighbours, particularly the elderly and people living alone. The peninsula's main arteries were described yesterday as "extremely treacherous" while many rural roads were impassable.

Helen Chivers, of the Met Office, said that further snow showers are expected today, making conditions even worse. However, she added that a "gentle thaw" is forecast from Thursday towards the weekend.