Whaley Bridge dam: More homes evacuated as storm threat looms

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A further 55 homes are being evacuated in a Derbyshire town – with bad weather expected to hamper efforts to fix a damaged dam at risk of bursting.

Some 1,500 people in Whaley Bridge were evacuated after part of the reservoir’s spillway broke away on Thursday.

Police said the extra evacuations on Saturday were due to the “risk of adverse weather…and the ongoing risk of the Toddbrook Reservoir breaching”.

Water levels at the reservoir have been reduced by half a metre since Thursday.

Extra pumps have been installed to speed up the work and contractors are putting concrete between hundreds of bags of ballast placed on the dam wall.

But the risk of collapse remains at “critical level”.

An RAF Chinook helicopter put 400 tonnes of sandbags on the affected part of the dam on Friday – adding a further 70 on Saturday.

Daniel Greenhalgh from the Canal and River Trust, which owns the reservoir and dam, warned: “We are not out of the woods yet.

“The last estimate was that residents could be out of their homes for seven days yet.”

On Saturday, they were allowed briefly into their homes to collect pets and essentials, but were warned they would be doing so at their own risk.

The controlled operation allowed one resident per household back into their homes for 15 minutes.

Police, the Environment Agency, and the Canal and River Trust, which owns the reservoir, have all said there is a “real risk” the 188-year-old dam could collapse and flood the town.

The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning for much of northern England and the Midlands, including the area around the reservoir.

The Canal and River Trust have defended the maintenance and safety of the structure, which was built in 1831.

Mr Greenhalgh said: “This dam was inspected regularly, by us and an independent engineer.

“It needs to be remembered there was a huge amount of rain in a short time and this flooded the area.”

Derbyshire Deputy Chief Fire Officer Gavin Tomlinson said the situation was “absolutely unique” and everyone had been “working till they can’t work any more”.

“Our aim is still the same; to prevent more water getting into the reservoir and working as hard as we can to make sure the dam wall retains its integrity.

“We will have the Chinooks working today [Saturday] dropping bags of ballast, we have specialist contractors putting concrete grouting between the bags of ballast to bind it together to give it more security.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited on Friday and promised a “major rebuild” of the dam.

A helpline for evacuated residents will be operated by Derbyshire County Council from 09:00 BST to 22:00 on Saturday. The number is 01629 533 190.

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