Whaley Bridge dam: Threat of storms as repairs continue

Helicopter flies over reservoirImage copyright Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption Firefighters are removing about 4.2 million litres of water per hour from the reservoir

Work to prevent a damaged dam in Derbyshire from bursting is continuing as the Met Office warns of thunderstorms and possible flooding.

Workers have been pumping water out of the 300-million-gallon Toddbrook Reservoir near Whaley Bridge.

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

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

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Media captionWater is being pumped away from the reservoir and sandbags are still being dropped

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

Some 1,500 residents of Whaley Bridge were evacuated after part of the reservoir’s spillway broke away on Thursday following heavy rain.

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

Speaking to evacuees at Chapel-en-le-Frith High School, Mr Johnson said he had flown over the structure on Friday.

He described it as looking “dodgy but stable” and told residents they would be “properly housed” if the dam burst.

The dam, built in 1831, became damaged after large swathes of the country were battered by heavy rain and floods earlier in the week.

An RAF Chinook helicopter has put 400 tonnes of sandbags on the affected part of the dam in an attempt to shore it up.

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “I flew over the dam and it looks pretty scary”

On Saturday morning, Environment Minister Therese Coffey said agencies were facing particular problems in reducing water levels.

“We are looking at new solutions to maximise the pumps we can use.

“Around much of the reservoir the ground is so sodden pumps could sink into the soil, but we have to get the water levels down so the dam can be inspected properly,” she said.

Image copyright Environment Agency
Image caption Teams said they had begun to make faster progress in pumping more water from the reservoir

The Labour MP for High Peak, Ruth George, said: “It’s not [a good weather forecast]. It’s going to be a race as to how fast they can pump the water out of the reservoir.

“It fills up very quickly because it has steep-sided hills on either side which run into it.

“We are going to need to know not just why this happened, after an inspection in November, but also whether there will need to be a different design and a whole new dam.”

Image copyright Eric Baker

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”.

“We have worked through the night to install seven large pumps which can shift an immense amount of water, five tonnes of water a minute, and we have another five of these which we are going to construct through the day,” he said.

“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 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.”

On Friday night and Saturday morning, evacuated residents were allowed to return briefly to collect pets and essentials.

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

People had complained they were made to leave in such a hurry that they had barely anything they needed with them.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Martin Codling was one of the residents who was allowed to briefly return

BBC reporters at the scene said there was a “steady stream” of people being allowed briefly back home. Police were taking mobile phone numbers in case of emergencies.

Resident Margaret Graham said: “We were told it was at our own risk, but its a calculated risk.

“Things like bricks and mortar and books can be replaced, but if my grandmother’s ring had disappeared into the water, that couldn’t be replaced.”

It is unclear when the residents will be able to go home permanently, but they are being told by police to expect to be gone for days.

In other developments:

  • Firefighters using hydraulic pumps managed to reduce the reservoir’s water level by half a metre (1ft 8ins)
  • Julie Sharman, from the Canal and River Trust, said it needed to come down “several metres” before it would be considered safe.
  • A “handful” of residents had refused to leave their homes, according to police

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.

Image caption There was a message for emergency workers who have been trying to prevent the dam’s collapse

Although the weather is currently dry, the Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning for thunderstorms starting on Sunday afternoon and continuing into the evening.

It warns there could be damage and disruption from floodwater and lightning strikes.

Railway lines in the Whaley Bridge area have been closed because of the risk of flooding.

Have you been affected by the damaged dam? If it’s safe to share your experiences please email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

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