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Whaley Bridge prepares for downpours as work continues to fix dam

More people have been evacuated from the town amid fears of a collapse.

Work is ongoing to fix a dam in Whaley Bridge amid fears it could collapse (Peter Byrne/PA)
Work is ongoing to fix a dam in Whaley Bridge amid fears it could collapse (Peter Byrne/PA)

Thunderstorms threaten to bring more unwanted rainfall to a Derbyshire town where a damaged dam is feared to be at risk of collapse and the threat to life remains “very high”.

Dozens more homes have been evacuated in Whaley Bridge ahead of expected bad weather on Sunday, as emergency workers continue their efforts to prevent the dam giving way.

The threat to life in the town continues to be “very high”, police said.

Water levels at the Toddbrook Reservoir have been reduced by just over three metres and pumps are continuing to remove water at a rate of around 10cm an hour, Derbyshire Police said.

More than 1,500 residents have been evacuated from town since Thursday, with 55 more properties cleared in the Horwich End area on Saturday.

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(PA Graphics)

Police have warned the situation with the 180-year-old structure remains “critical” with Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann saying: “The threat to life remains very high in Whaley Bridge and the surrounding Goyt Valley area”.

Forecasters warned of the potential for up to 40mm of rain to fall in just an hour or two on Sunday afternoon.

Police said once emergency workers reach and maintain a level of water on the reservoir that allows engineers to look closely at the damage to the wall, a decision could be made on residents being able to return to the area.

It had been suggested by Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gavin Tomlinson that people may be able to get back to their homes by the end of the week.

While residents had been allowed to return for brief periods this weekend to collect essential items, police said no-one would be allowed to return on Sunday ahead of expected heavy rainfall.

Ms Swann criticised a “very small minority” of people who she said had failed to leave the area through the same road block as they entered when returning to pick up belongings.

She said: “These people are putting the lives of officers at risk as further checks have to now be completed to ensure those residents are out of the area safely.”

A Met Office yellow weather warning is in place for much of northern England and the Midlands, including the area around the reservoir.

Meteorologist Mark Wilson said: “There is the potential for some thundery showers which could give some very unwelcome rain (in that area).

“There is the potential for 30-40mm in just one to two hours.”

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(PA Graphics)

Police said the added evacuations on Saturday evening were due to “a potential increase in risk of adverse weather in coming days and the ongoing risk of the Toddbrook Reservoir breaching”.

The reservoir’s levels are being monitored for any impact on the wall and surrounding infrastructure, the force said.

Residents evacuated on Thursday told how they grabbed medication and beloved pets when they were allowed to very briefly return home on Saturday, having been warned by police they did so at their own risk.

Tracey Coleman said she, her 18-year-old daughter Anna and the rest of the family left on Thursday with their two dogs, a cat, a tortoise and the neighbour’s dog and went to her mother’s house nearby.

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Anna Coleman, 18, with her tortoise Nelly and dog Henry, who were evacuated with her and her family (Eleanor Barlow/PA)

Boris Johnson visited the area on Friday and promised that the damaged reservoir would have a “major rebuild” as he met locals at nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith High School.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, who visited the area on Saturday, paid tribute to the “patience and fortitude” of residents and thanked all those working to repair the dam.

An RAF Chinook has dropped more than 400 sandbags, and around 150 firefighters have been using high-volume pumps to remove excess water from the reservoir.

The dam wall has been packed with 530 tonnes of aggregate which is being cemented into place to reinforce the structural integrity of the spillway, police said.

Residents are expected to be updated on the situation at a meeting on Sunday evening.

The reservoir is on the north-west edge of the Peak District National Park and was built in 1831, according to experts, although the Environment Agency records it as being built in 1840-41.

PA

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