Northern Ireland Government Plans Water Crisis Meeting

The Northern Ireland power-sharing government said Wednesday it will hold an emergency meeting to discuss a crisis that has left an estimated 40,000 people without water for as long as 10 days.

The Thursday meeting will be chaired by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, the government said.

The crisis has left people across Northern Ireland without running water because of pipes that burst in the cold weather, officials said Wednesday. The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service and charities including the Red Cross have been drafted to help distribute emergency supplies after what the Belfast government called ""an unprecedented number of burst pipes.""

Local councils were also working to supply water and offering free showers to people without running water.

Almost 80 towns and villages across Northern Ireland have been affected and government company Northern Ireland Water has warned the disruption could continue for several more days.

The company said it was alternating supplies from reservoirs in a bid to give every area a limited supply, causing more interruptions.

Supplies of bottled water have run out at a number of collection points. The Scottish government has offered to supply extra bottled water.

McGuinness summoned officials to crisis talks Wednesday and said the situation was ""completely unacceptable.""

Liam Mulholland of Northern Ireland Water blamed government ""underinvestment"" during decades of conflict in Northern Ireland for the current difficulties."