Whaley Bridge dam: Town’s evacuation enters fifth day

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Much of the town lies beneath the reservoir’s water level

Residents of Whaley Bridge are preparing to spend a fifth day out of their homes following the partial collapse of the town’s dam wall.

Storms predicted for Sunday missed the area, as fire crews continued to pump water away from Toddbrook Reservoir.

RAF Wing Commander John Coles, who is in charge of the military operation to shore up the wall, said he felt “they had got through the worst of it”.

But police say the dam remains unstable and people cannot yet return home.

About 1,500 people were evacuated from the town on Thursday when part of the reservoir’s spillway collapsed following heavy rainfall.

Since then, crews using 24 high-pressure pumps have removed more than a third of the reservoir’s water, and RAF Chinooks have dropped over 500 tonnes of aggregate into the damaged section of the wall to reinforce it.

Forecasters had warned that 30-40mm (1.2-1.6in) of rain could fall in two hours on Sunday night. But as many parts of the UK were hit with storms, Whaley Bridge saw only light showers.

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RAF Chinooks have dropped more than 500 tonnes of aggregate

Speaking late on Sunday, Wing Commander Coles said: “I think the assessment is now that actually the dam is relatively stable.

“It’s very much a case of pumping more water out, and those engineers when it comes first light, will make another assessment of how successful that’s been.

“The military will standby ready to come back up if required but I think the sense of the moment is very much we’ve got through the worst of it.

“We were fortunate with the weather.”

However, the dam remains unstable, and police, the Environment Agency, and the Canal and River Trust have all said there is a “real risk” the 188-year-old structure could collapse and flood the town.

Meanwhile, 31 residents have refused to leave their homes, prompting sharp criticism from police.

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PA Media

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Army troops have also been drafted in to help with the operation to shore up the dam wall

Deputy chief constable Rachel Swann said: “We’ve not evacuated this for no reason. We’ve evacuated this because there is a real prospect that the dam could fail, and if it fails it is catastrophic.

“People would die if they were in that evacuation zone. So those people who remain in that zone are putting their lives at risk.

“They are also putting the lives of the responders, primarily the police, at risk because we have to keep going in and speaking to them and asking them to leave.”

In other developments, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has announced he will meet residents and emergency workers in the Whaley Bridge area on Monday.

It follows Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to the town on Friday.

The authorities have yet to reveal how long the evacuation zone will remain in place, but at a meeting on Sunday police said that the “worst case scenario” was a week.

Speaking on Sunday, BBC correspondent Danny Savage said that within 48 hours the authorities could be thinking about moving people back into their homes.

Monday’s forecast for the Whaley Bridge area is for largely dry weather, with the odd light shower.

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