We were right, say diehards who refused to leave Whaley Bridge

We were right, say diehards who refused to leave Whaley Bridge

August 6, 2019

We were right! Diehards who refused to leave their Whaley Bridge homes despite the threat of a 300m-gallon deluge celebrate as dozens of neighbours are allowed back but others face SIXTH night out of their homes

  • More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the Derbyshire town since Thursday following heavy rain
  • Four families who had refused to leave claimed they had been proved right – as dozens returned home 
  • Others will have to wait until another inspection tomorrow until police decide it is ‘absolutely safe’ to return 
  • A Chinook helicopter has been dropping bags of aggregate on the dam in an attempt to strengthen structure 
  • Environment Agency said Toddbrook Reservoir dam would be rebuilt in a project lasting up to three years 

Diehards who refused to leave their Whaley Bridge despite the threat of a 300m-gallon deluge celebrated today as dozens of neighbours were allowed back to their homes. 

The four families living next to each other claimed they had been proved right – although many others are still facing a sixth night out of their homes. 

Malcolm Venton, 77, and partner Lorraine Ellis, 64, were among seven people in their street and 20 residents in the whole of Whaley Bridge to stay put.

He said: ‘It’s vindicated us really, I felt that we were never in much danger and that’s proven to be the case. A police woman this morning asked me if I was was one of those refusing to move and I sad ‘yes’.

‘She said that I was ‘foolish’ and told me ‘we’ll be the ones who have to retrieve your bodies’.  

‘We were only just within the evacuation zone and if anything were to happen, I had a bag packed and the car parked outside to drive literally 200 yards or so up the hill to the safe area.

‘It didn’t seem worth all the hassle of moving out to a temporary shelter, particularly as one of our border collies, Meg, is sick at the moment and is limping and so hardly able to move. All that upheaval wouldn’t have been fair on her.’

The families live in Horwich End, which was the part of town people were allowed to return to today. 

Scroll down for video. 

Some Whaley Bridge residents stayed put after being told to leave. They were, left to right: Lorraine Ellis, Gillian George, Martin George, Kaz stringer, Malcom Venton and Chris George

John Lomas returning to his home in Whaley Bridge after some residents in the Horwich End part of town were told they were allowed to go home 

Sandbags lining the street outside The Goyt Inn in Whaley Bridge, which was behind the evacuation cordon this afternoon 

An RAF Chinook helicopter is pictured dumping bags of ballast over the most vulnerable part of the dam in Whaley Bridge today as emergency services warn people living in nearby towns and villages that they will be left with as little as ten minutes to evacuate should the barrier burst 

The Chinook continued to drop bags of ballast on Toddbrook Reservoir dam in Derbyshire during heavy rainfall today. The crew were also accompanied by a joint helicopter support squadron deployed from RAF Benson and a liaison officer 

Residents from Whaley Bridge queuing at a school in Chapel-en-le-Frith, where they will be hoping to find out when they are likely to be allowed back into their homes at a public meeting

Edwina Currie with fellow residents from Whaley Bridge, who were queuing at a school in Chapel-en-le-Frith before today’s meeting 

A map showing the towns and villages close to the Whaley Bridge dam along with the evacuation area that was in place this morning 

Neighbour Chris George, 48, agreed and said: ‘I didn’t feel that I was putting myself in harm’s way at all and tonight’s decision I think reflects that.

‘We are only just inside the ‘red zone’ or ‘danger zone’ so if anything bad happened I could have run 150 yards or so up the hill to safety. 

‘I’ve got a bag ready and packed with clothing and bare essentials should that be the case. ‘I wanted to stay within the comfort of my own home, rather be here than some hotel or draughty school hall. 

‘I’ve seen the criticisms of those residents people who’ve stayed put and I can understand that but I really don’t think I’m going to be putting myself or others in any danger.’

Kaz Stringer, 47, and her partner Martin George were moved out of their town centre flat on Thursday and were staying with his 70-year-old mother Gillian when they were asked to evacuate again on Saturday.

All three refused and Kaz said: ‘We’d already moved once and didn’t want to do so again after only two days.

‘Besides, this house is on a much higher point and is much better protected from any floodwater so we didn’t feel the need to.’

She said that police had been flying drones over the evacuation zone around the town centre to keep an eye on potential looters.

The cleaner said: ‘The pub where I work had its front door smashed in slightly but the intruders weren’t able to get in fortunately.

‘I don’t know when I’ll be able to get back to work as until now we’ve had to remain at home. Some of the cordon has been lifted but you still can’t go very far.’

Whaley Bridge today resembled a ghost town, with streets deserted and sandbags piled up outside shops and businesses. 

A school that would normally be filled with noisy children is eerily quiet behind locked gates. Indian and Chinese restaurants that would ordinarily be filled with customers are closed, as are pubs and a cocktail bar. 

The bunting of a long forgotten festival flaps around in the wind with the only cars driving through the deserted town centre streets being police or mountain rescue vehicles. 

More than 1500 people have been evacuated from Whaley Bridge since Thursday when heavy rainfall sparked fears that a local 300-million-gallon Reservoir could flood the small Derbyshire town below.

Last night residents living in 55 properties on the fringes of the evacuated area were allowed back to their homes after the water level dropped by 31 feet.

However, hundreds of homes and businesses remain cordoned off by police as pumps continue to try and ease the water pressure on the nearby Toddbrook dam. Other residents will have to wait until tomorrow to hear if they will also be allowed to return. 

Among those returning to their homes were mother and daughter Tracey and Anna Coleman who fled to safety on Thursday night.

As an RAF Chinook continued to thunder overhead dropping sandbags on parts of the dam which had crumbled away, 52-year-old Tracey said: ‘The town is like a war zone.

‘Everywhere is locked down still with police manning checkpoints, the civic hall is surrounded by sandbags and you’ve got a military helicopter buzzing overhead every ten minutes or so.

‘It’s quite surreal but a big relief to be back home after five days away.

‘We’s initially decided to stay put as our house was only really on the cusp of the danger zone but we got out on Thursday night when the police were banging on doors asking people to leave.

‘There were fears that the dam had burst and I think that spooked a lot of people. I didn’t want to take any chances so I went to my mother’s house nearby.

‘The rescue teams have done a brilliant job. Hopefully we’ll get back to normal as soon as possible.’  

The helicopter had been deploying bags of aggregate a mixture of sand, gravel and stone – into the dam to shore it up

An Chinook crew member looks down over Whaley Bridge from the open rear of the aircraft during today’s recovery operation 

The Ministry of Defence released these spectacular images of the Chinook helicopter as it took part in operations today 

Chinooks have flown in multiple combat operations for the RAF, including the Iraq War, but can also be called up for civilian duties 

The Chinook’s powerful rotor blades kicked up spray from the surface of Todbrook Reservoir as it made its approach to the dam 

A soldier holds a field radio as the RAF Chinook MK6A helicopter approaches the Whaley Bridge dam this afternoon 

The Chinook was deployed from RAF Odiham to assist civil authorities dealing with the emergency situation at Toddbrook Reservoir

The RAF Chinook has already dropped approximately 150 tonnes of aggregate – a mixture of sand, gravel and stone – into Toddbrook and will continue to do so throughout the day

The bags of aggregate being dropped by the Chinook is intended to stem the flow of water into the reservoir and into other surrounding watercourses designed for this purpose

Workers attempting to block the waters they feared would burst through the Toddbrook Reservoir dam, with nearby towns all falling within reach of any flooding that could occur 

Animal search teams in Whaley Bridge are pictured loading up their rescue vehicle as people in Derbyshire face the threat of flooding due to the dam’s vulnerability 

News of the evacuation zone being opened up slightly came at a residents meeting earlier this evening.

Deputy Chief Constable of Derbyshire Police Rachel Swann said: ‘We have obviously been pumping the water out and it has gone down at a fast speed. It is now beyond 9.5 metres (31 feet). We will keep draining the water until it is safe to stop.

‘What we need to do is just to check the reservoir is fit for when it rains again and we have got a yellow weather warning.’

She added other residents would have to remain evacuated until Wednesday, when a further inspection will take place.

She said: ‘I have got a meeting at 12pm tomorrow where I am expecting we will have good news.

‘We can assure you that security of the area continues. We are using drones regularly to patrol the area.

‘We did have reports of a couple of prowlers the other evening but that turned out to be two police officers.’

Today the Royal Air Force Chinook was pictured transporting sandbags as work continues to shore up the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir 

Workers were once again pictured today working to fix the dam after it was announced that they had reduced the water level by more than 23ft

The vast landscape of the Derbyshire countryside can be seen in the picture above as workers continue to try and secure the dam

There is set to be a meeting in Whaley Bridge this evening where residents are hoping to hear that they will be able to return (pictured above the Royal Air Force Chinook)

Twenty people in 16 homes are said to have remained in their properties. Today the Royal Air Force Chinook was seen in the area again as teams continue to push 

Deputy Chief Constable Swann told the residents’ gathering: ‘I have got a meeting at 12pm tomorrow where I am expecting we will have good news. We have obviously been pumping the water out and it has gone down at a fast speed. It is now beyond 31 feet. 

‘We will keep draining the water until it is safe to stop. What we need to do is just to check the reservoir is fit for when it rains again and we have got a yellow weather warning.’

The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning covering much of England, including the Derbyshire town, on Friday and Saturday.

Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service said earlier ‘work is ongoing’ at the dam and ‘nowhere have we said that the dam is safe’ after people were hopeful of a return to their homes.

In response to a tweet which said ‘the dam is considered safe’, the fire service said: ‘Nowhere have we said that the dam is safe now.

‘Work is ongoing, and road closures and evacuations are still in place to preserve life.

‘We will open roads and let people return home as soon as we can, but we have no way of knowing when this will be.’

Some residents had refused to leave Whaley Bridge where workers having been since Thursday to secure the dam. Pictured above Royal Air Force Chinook 

Where Whaley Bridge is in relation to the reservoir and the dam wall which has a hole in it, and the flow of the water 

At a meeting on tomorrow afternoon, residents are likely to be told there is still work to do to make the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir safe.

Commenting on the current status of the dam, the fire service said: ‘Derbyshire appliances are still working with partner agencies at Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge to secure the dam wall.

‘We thank everyone working at the incident and in the surrounding area for their continued support and patience.’

 A spokesman for the Environment Agency said the dam will eventually be rebuilt.

Speaking to residents at the meeting in Chapel-en-le-Frith, the spokesman said: ‘We are very much in the emergency phase now and we are currently repairing and carrying out construction work.

‘It is a long-term construction project, but we will not have started from scratch. It could take 18 months, two years, three years, who knows?’   

Does this picture of a ‘neglected’ dam prove it was a disaster waiting to happen? Footage shows weeds and a tree growing between the concrete panels of Whaley Bridge three years ago

Footage showing plants growing between the concrete panels of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam spillway three years ago have raised questions over its maintenance since then.

The spillway is designed to deal with any water which comes over the top of the dam and channel it safely away.

One engineering expert voiced concern over possible harm to the structure.

Dr Mohammad Heidarzadeh, an assistant professor at Brunel University, said the vegetation on the 2016 video taken from a drone indicated likely gaps between the panels where water could have swept in, making the damage worse.

‘That could be the whole problem right there,’ he said.

Picture shows plants growing between the concrete panels of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam spillway three years ago

‘The spillway needs to be kept sealed and clear of these kind of weeds and plants.’

However another expert, Professor Tim Broyd, former president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, doubted whether the spillway’s failure matched the area where the weeds were most prevalent.

Asked whether the images suggested good maintenance, he said: ‘I’m not sure why you’d want a small tree on the spillway.’

A spokesperson for the Canal and River Trust (CRT), which maintains the dam, said the reservoir was inspected and maintained by independent engineers. 

‘This includes regular detailed ten yearly inspections carried out by an independent panel engineer and CRT supervising engineer.

‘The last one was undertaken in November 2018 and signed off by the independent panel engineer and CRT supervising engineer in April.

‘Understanding historical inspections and maintenance is clearly important and will be part of our ongoing response to this event.’

A Whaley Bridge resident said it’s ‘no surprise’ part of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam collapsed – as a series of images showing the structure in disrepair emerged.

The pictures were taken in the weeks and months before last week’s devastating floods.

Hundreds of plants can be seen growing from the earth and creeping through the concrete spillway, which partially collapsed on Thursday.

The man said the vegetation must have caused structural damage to the dam, contributing to its downfall.

He said: ‘The signs have been there for years. The slats that have collapsed have had plants growing between them for a long time. Now they have collapsed and it’s no great surprise.’

He added: ‘It seems like the dam has just been left to its own devices. You wouldn’t let your gutters get into that state let alone a dam.’

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