- Officials said there was a “significant threat to life” in the town of Whaley Bridge.
- The wall of a dam in a reservoir above the city collapsed after days of heavy rain.
- Local police described it as an “unprecedented and rapid emergency”.
More than 1,500 residents who live near a damaged reservoir in northwest England were told on Sunday they could not return home to collect their belongings as the threat of the dam collapsing remains high .
Forecasters predict days of heavy rain in Whaley Bridge, a Derbyshire town 175 miles northwest of London. Part of the reservoir spillway gave way last week. Rescuers continued to work on Sunday to lower water levels.
The dam wall of the 19th century Toddbrook Reservoir above the town was damaged after days of heavy rains caused flooding in the area. The Royal Air Force was called in as reinforcements and a Chinook helicopter dropped over 500 tonnes of sand, rock and gravel to shore up the dam.
The 1,500 residents who were driven from their homes were first told they could return briefly on Sunday to collect needed items, pets and medicine they had left behind. However, police backtracked on Sunday saying officers needed to focus on the impending storm and potential flooding.
“The attention of officers and other responders must be on the preservation of life“, Derbyshire Police said in a statement. “Although there has been an urgent need over the past 24 hours to allow residents to return to the area, our first duty is to protect the lives of the public and emergency services.”
Forecasters said up to 1.5 inches of rain could fall in one to two hours, according to the UK Met Office.
Firefighters were using 24 pumps to extract water from the reservoir and pump it into the Goyt River to relieve pressure on the dam.
About 35% of the water in the reservoir had been removed by Sunday morning, Derbyshire Fire Deputy Chief Gavin Tomlinson said, according to The Associated Press. Inlets to the reservoir were also dammed to block flood waters from the expected rain.
“The dam is like a basin, it has no straight sides, so as the water level drops crews have to move the pumps around to make sure they can work as efficiently as possible,” said said Tomlinson. “Our priority remains the same, pumping as much water as possible from the reservoir, to protect the community of Whaley Bridge from the risk of a dam failure.”
Daniel Greenhalgh, regional director of the trust, owner of the reservoir and dam, said: “We are not out of the woods yet. The latest estimate was that residents could still be out of their homes for seven days. »
The evacuees were housed in a school and some pubs and community halls in the area had offered to take them in.
“The rest of the village is a bit like a ghost town, it’s pretty much deserted at the moment,” Whaley Bridge resident Simon Perry told BBC.com as he stood on the banks of the reservoir.
Martin Thomas, chairman of Whaley Bridge Town Council, told BBC.com the ground was saturated from the wet weather and the reservoir was already full.
“Most of the properties, fortunately, are above the level of the dam, and even those below are on the steeply sloping hills, which rise away from the valley floor,” Thomas said. “Nevertheless, there are communities and a school just below the dam wall.
“Something we previously thought of as a benign recreational facility suddenly becomes a real mortal danger.”