Residents risking lives by refusing to leave Whaley Bridge, warn police

Thirty-one people refusing to leave a Derbyshire town where it is feared a damaged dam could burst have been warned they are are putting their own lives and those of the emergency services at risk.

A senior officer said there could be "catastrophic" consequences if the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir collapses and there are people within the evacuation zone.

A "small number" of people who were initially evacuated have since returned to their homes in Whaley Bridge, during a brief period when police allowed them to do so to collect vital items, but then failed to come back outside the cordon.

Residents of 22 homes, thought to be a mix of those who have gone back to their properties and those who never left following the first evacuations on Thursday, are now refusing to leave despite police warning of a "very high" threat to life.

Deputy chief constable Rachel Swann told a residents meeting on Sunday evening that, as a result, the decision was taken to stop people returning to their homes to pick up essentials.

She said: "We've not evacuated this for no reason.

"We've evacuated this because there is real prospect the dam could fail and if it fails it is catastrophic. People would die if they if they were in that evacuation zone.

"So those people who are remain in that zone at putting their lives at risk.

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A bag of aggregate, a mixture of sand, gravel and stone, is thrown onto the damaged Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge,in Derbyshire, England, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Emergency workers are racing to lower water levels behind a damaged dam in northwest England as forecasters warn more bad weather is on the way. Pumps have reduced the water level in Toddbrook Reservoir by half a meter (20 inches) since Thursday, but authorities warn that pressure on the 180-year-old dam remains severe. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
A view of the damaged Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge,in Derbyshire, England, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Emergency workers are racing to lower water levels behind a damaged dam in northwest England as forecasters warn more bad weather is on the way. Pumps have reduced the water level in Toddbrook Reservoir by half a meter (20 inches) since Thursday, but authorities warn that pressure on the 180-year-old dam remains severe. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
An RAF Chinook helicopter drops aggregate to help shore up a reservoir at risk of collapse, threatening to engulf the town of Whaley Bridge in the Peak District, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A British military helicopter has dropped sandbags to shore up a reservoir wall as emergency services worked frantically to prevent a rain-damaged dam from collapsing. Engineers say they remain "very concerned" about the integrity of the 19th-century Toddbrook Reservoir, which contains around 1.3 million metric tons (1.5 million (U.S tons) of water. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
An RAF Chinook helicopter drops aggregate to help shore up a reservoir at risk of collapse, threatening to engulf the town of Whaley Bridge in the Peak District, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A British military helicopter has dropped sandbags to shore up a reservoir wall as emergency services worked frantically to prevent a rain-damaged dam from collapsing. Engineers say they remain "very concerned" about the integrity of the 19th-century Toddbrook Reservoir, which contains around 1.3 million metric tons (1.5 million (U.S tons) of water. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
An RAF Chinook helicopter drops aggregate to help shore up a reservoir at risk of collapse, threatening to engulf the town of Whaley Bridge in the Peak District, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A British military helicopter has dropped sandbags to shore up a reservoir wall as emergency services worked frantically to prevent a rain-damaged dam from collapsing. Engineers say they remain "very concerned" about the integrity of the 19th-century Toddbrook Reservoir, which contains around 1.3 million metric tons (1.5 million (U.S tons) of water. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with rescue crews and local residents during a visit to Chapel-en-le-Frith High School near the village of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A British military helicopter dropped sandbags Friday to shore up a reservoir wall as emergency services worked frantically to prevent a rain-damaged dam from collapsing. Engineers said they remain "very concerned" about the integrity of the 19th-century Toddbrook Reservoir, which contains around 1.3 million metric tons (1.5 million (U.S tons) of water. (Leon Neal/Pool photo via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ministry of Defence, a RAF Chinook helicopter loading up bags of aggregate, a mixture of sand, gravel and stone, to assist civil authorities dealing with the emergency situation at Toddbrook Reservoir, in Whaley Bridge, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A Royal Air Force helicopter and firefighters are shoring up a reservoir wall in northwest England amid fears that a rain-damaged dam could collapse. (RAF Benson/MOD via AP)
In this photo provided by the Ministry of Defence, a RAF Chinook helicopter deployed from RAF Odiham carries bags of aggregate, a mixture of sand, gravel and stone, to assist civil authorities dealing with the emergency situation at Toddbrook Reservoir, in Whaley Bridge, England, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019. A Royal Air Force helicopter and firefighters are shoring up a reservoir wall in northwest England amid fears that a rain-damaged dam could collapse. (Gary Lane/MOD via AP)
An RAF Chinook helicopter carrying sandbags arrive at the dam at Toddbrook reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, central England, Friday Aug. 2, 2019, after it was damaged by heavy rainfall. British police ordered the evacuation of the town of 6,500 people on Thursday over fears that the rain-damaged dam could collapse. (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Panorama de la presa Toddbrook cerca del pueblo de Whaley Bridge, Cheshire, Inglaterra, el jueves 1 de agosto de 2019. La policía ordenó la evacuación de la zona por temor a que el embalse pudiera colapsar. (Danny Lawson /PA vía AP)
A roadblock is put in place at Whaley Lane the entrance to the village of Whaley Bridge, Cheshire, England, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. British police have ordered the evacuation of a town of 6,500 residents in northwest England over fears that a dam could collapse. The Derbyshire Police force says residents of Whaley Bridge should leave their homes because of the "significant threat to life." (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Emergency services at Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, Cheshire, England, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. British police have ordered the evacuation of a town of 6,500 residents in northwest England over fears that a dam could collapse. The Derbyshire Police force says residents of Whaley Bridge should leave their homes because of the "significant threat to life." (Danny Lawson/PA via AP)
Attempts continue to repair Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, after it was damaged in heavy rainfall.
Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, after it was damaged in heavy rainfall.
General view of sandbags in the village of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, after it was damaged in heavy rainfall.
General view of sandbags and fire engines at Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, after it was damaged in heavy rainfall.
A bag of concrete is thrown onto the damaged Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, after heavy rainfall.
An RAF Chinook helicopter flies in sandbags to help repair the dam at Toddbrook reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, after it was damaged by heavy rainfall.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) arrives to meet emergency crews during a visit to Whaley Bridge Football Club in Derbyshire, after the Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge was damaged in heavy rainfall.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a selfie taken as he arrives to meet emergency crews during a visit to Whaley Bridge Football Club in Derbyshire, after the Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge was damaged in heavy rainfall.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a selfie with police officers as he arrives to meet emergency crews during a visit to Whaley Bridge Football Club in Derbyshire, after the Toddbrook Reservoir near the village of Whaley Bridge was damaged in heavy rainfall.
Emergency service workers maintain a closed road cordon in the town centre of Whaley Bridge which has been evacuated due to structural damage to the spillway of Toddbrook Reservoir dam following heavy rainfall, above the town of Whaley Bridge in northern England on August 4, 2019. - Another 55 homes have been evacuated from an English town threatened by a collapsing dam, emergency services said Sunday as they raced to reduce the water levels ahead of fresh storms. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
A fire fighter walks past water pumping units stationed on the bank of Toddbrook Reservoir, the spillway of which suffered severe damage following a period of heavy rainfall, above the town of Whaley Bridge in northern England on August 4, 2019. - Another 55 homes have been evacuated from an English town threatened by a collapsing dam, emergency services said Sunday as they raced to reduce the water levels ahead of fresh storms. (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
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"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."

More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the town since Thursday.

Water levels at the reservoir have now been reduced by more than 3.5 metres and pumps are continuing to remove water at a rate of around 10cm an hour, police said.

Graphic shows latest area of Whaley Bridge to be evacuated by police
(PA Graphics)

But the situation at the 180-year-old structure remains "critical" and the threat to life "very high", the force has said.

Forecasters had warned of the potential for up to 40mm of rain to fall in just an hour or two on Sunday afternoon but the feared bad weather had not arrived by early evening.

Police said once emergency workers reach and maintain a level of water on the reservoir that allows engineers to look closely at the damage to the wall, a decision could be made on residents being able to return to the area.

Derbyshire chief fire officer Terry McDermott told the meeting in Chapel-en-le-Frith that a seven-day estimate for how long people would be out of their homes was a "worst case scenario".

He said specialist engineers have monitored the dam wall 24 hours a day with lasers and are reassured by their assessment.

He said: "There has been no significant deflection in the dam wall according to the feedback we've had so far, which gives us some reassurance."

He explained that the sluice channel around the reservoir was "coping well" with both the water being pumped out by 22 pumps and the inflow to the lake which has been blocked off by Chinook drops.

Six rescue boats have been deployed in the region in case the dam bursts.

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.

The dam wall has been packed with 530 tonnes of aggregate which is being cemented into place to reinforce the structural integrity of the spillway, police said.

Weather warning for thunderstorms
(PA Graphics)

Boris Johnson, who visited the area on Friday promised that the damaged reservoir would have a "major rebuild" as he met locals, and Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers, who visited a day later, paid tribute to the "patience and fortitude" of residents as well as thanking all those working to repair the dam.

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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