Whaley Bridge prepares for downpours as work continues to fix dam

Thunderstorms threaten to bring more unwanted rainfall to a Derbyshire town where a damaged dam is feared to be at risk of collapse.

Dozens more homes have been evacuated in Whaley Bridge ahead of expected bad weather on Sunday, as emergency workers continue their efforts to prevent the dam giving way.

There remains a threat to life in the town and 55 further properties were cleared in the Horwich End area this weekend, on top of around 1,500 residents who had already been evacuated.

Water levels at the Toddbrook Reservoir in the town have been reduced by 1.3 metres since Thursday, the Department for the Environment said, but police warned the 180-year-old structure remained in a “critical condition” with a breach still a “very real threat”.

Forecasters warned of the potential for up to 40mm of rain to fall in just an hour or two on Sunday afternoon.

A Met Office yellow weather warning is in place for much of northern England and the Midlands, including the area around the reservoir.

Meteorologist Mark Wilson said: “There is the potential for some thundery showers which could give some very unwelcome rain (in that area).

“There is the potential for 30-40mm in just one to two hours.”

Police said the added evacuations on Saturday evening were due to “a potential increase in risk of adverse weather in coming days and the ongoing risk of the Toddbrook Reservoir breaching”.

Residents evacuated on Thursday told how they grabbed medication and beloved pets when they were allowed to very briefly return home on Saturday, having been warned by police they did so at their own risk.

Reminding residents they should only return for essential items, Chief Superintendent Michelle Shooter said: “I would like to take this opportunity to remind local residents that the state of the dam is still in a critical condition and that the risk of breach is still a very real threat.”

Joan Pass, 78, was in tears after she went back for the first time since the mass evacuation of the town, describing it as “terrible”.

She said she thought there had been an explosion when first told to evacuate.

Mrs Pass said: “The bells were ringing – I didn’t know what the bells were ringing for. My daughter said get out, get your passport and your medication.

“I thought it was a bomb.”

Anna Coleman, 18, with her tortoise Nelly and dog Henry, who were evacuated with her and her family (Eleanor Barlow/PA)
Anna Coleman, 18, with her tortoise Nelly and dog Henry, who were evacuated with her and her family (Eleanor Barlow/PA)

Ben Pudsey and Andrew McNair, from Animal Search UK, said they had rescued a cockatiel called Joey from one of the evacuated houses, where he had escaped from his cage and was flying around the living room.

Tracey Coleman said she, her 18-year-old daughter Anna and the rest of the family left on Thursday with their two dogs, a cat, a tortoise and the neighbour’s dog and went to her mother’s house nearby.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service Gavin Tomlinson said crews were working to get “ahead of the curve and remove as much water as possible” in order to “minimise the impact of any bad weather that does materialise”.

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.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, who visited the area on Saturday, paid tribute to the “patience and fortitude” of residents and thanked all those working to repair the dam.

An RAF Chinook has dropped more than 400 sandbags, and around 150 firefighters have been using high-volume pumps to remove excess water from the reservoir.

Residents are expected to be updated on the situation at a meeting on Sunday evening.

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.

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