Whaley Bridge: storms forecast as work to repair dam continues | Environment



Emergency services will continue their efforts to prevent a damaged dam from collapsing in Derbyshire, as forecasters warn more bad weather could be on the way.

Water levels at the Toddbrook reservoir in Whaley Bridge have been reduced by half a metre since Thursday but the damage to the 180-year-old structure remains at a critical level.

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

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

Evacuated residents spent another night away from their homes on Friday and police warned it could be several days before they are allowed to return.

The prime minister, 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, which is being used as an evacuation centre.

Emergency repairs to the damaged dam.

Emergency repairs to the damaged dam. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Describing the damage to the dam as “pretty scary”, he said: “The plan is to try and stop the dam breaking, clearly. And so a huge amount of effort is going into that.”

On Saturday the environment minister Thérèse Coffey said the situation was still critical and urged residents not to return home while there was still a threat to life.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are still in that critical stage, that’s why we still have the severe flood warning.

“They are at risk if they are in that main town and I’m glad that people have responded. I cannot emphasise enough how patient they need to be.

“Of course this is a distressing and worrying time for them, but if that dam were to breach it would lead to a loss of life if there were people there. There’s no doubt about that.”

Boris Johnson visiting the town on Friday.

Boris Johnson visiting the town on Friday. Photograph: Cpl Rob Travis RAF/MoD/EPA

An RAF Chinook helicopter and around 150 firefighters using high-volume pumps appear to have partly stabilised the reservoir’s spillway, with further pumps brought in by officials on Friday.

Johnson, who arrived by helicopter, said he thought they had to get the level of the water down about eight metres, although there was some discussion with the surrounding officials about whether this was the exact figure.

He added: “I was talking to one of the villagers from Whaley Bridge who said that he remembered something like this happening 50 years ago.

“We’ve had an exceptional weather event, we must make sure that this dam can cope with it in the future. That will mean a major rebuild, clearly.”

Those evacuated from their homes were allowed to return briefly on Friday evening to pick up any vital items or pets. The operation allowed just one person from each household to return for a maximum of 15 minutes.

Derbyshire police said any residents who re-entered Whaley Bridge would be doing so at their own risk and that the threat to life remained high.

About 1,000 people were evacuated from the town but most found their own accommodation with family and friends, according to Derbyshire county council.

Police have closed railway lines in the Whaley Bridge area over the risk of potential flooding, which is due to continue into the weekend.

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.

According to a 2011 Environment Agency report on national dam incidents, Toddbrook “has a history of leakage”.