Residents ‘increasingly fed-up’ as return to Whaley Bridge delayed

Hundreds of residents evacuated from Whaley Bridge have been left “increasingly fed-up” as only a small number were able to return to their homes on Tuesday.

More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the Derbyshire town since Thursday amid heavy rain, although a small number refused to leave their properties.

At a meeting in a school in neighbouring Chapel-en-le-Frith, the remaining residents were told they had to wait until after noon on Wednesday before a decision could be made on whether they could go back.

Residents queue for the meeting in Chapel-en-le-Frith
Residents queue for the meeting in Chapel-en-le-Frith (Joe Giddens/PA)

Derbyshire Police previously said those evacuated from the town must wait until experts decide that Toddbrook Reservoir’s damaged dam is “absolutely safe”.

Despite most people having to wait, representatives of the police and the Environment Agency said the water level had dropped way below the target of eight to 9.5 metres.

Police said a safe water level at the reservoir had been reached after around 17% of the reservoir’s capacity had been pumped out.

Residents were also told engineers would assess the damage to the wall before making a decision on allowing more people to return.

(PA Graphics)

Derbyshire Police Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann told a public meeting on Tuesday that people from the Horwich End area could return home.

She said: “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 9.5 metres. 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.”

A yellow severe weather warning for #rain has been issued: Stay

— Met Office (@metoffice) August 6, 2019

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

One resident who has returned, John Lomas, said: It’s great to be back home. All the services guys have done an excellent job, I’m very proud of them all.”

Another returning resident, Melissa Broxup, said the last few days had been “a nightmare. An absolute nightmare”.

Melissa Broxup returns to her home
Melissa Broxup returns to her home (Joe Giddens/PA)

“I’ve not been able to go anywhere and Whaley is so quiet. Everyone in Whaley has been amazing. It’s not easy.”

Asked what it was like to be one of the first to be let back in, she said: “It’s great. I can finally get some sleep. I just can’t wait to get back in my flat.

“I’m happy but on the other side I’m gutted for those who can’t come back.”

An RAF Chinook was again drafted in on Tuesday to help the previously dropped bags of aggregate settle into place.

An RAF Chinook over Toddbrook Reservoir
An RAF Chinook over Toddbrook Reservoir (Cpl Rob Travis/MoD/PA)

RAF Regional Liaison Officer for the North West, Wing Commander Gary Lane, said: “The work we have done is just finding its feet.

“When you put a load of aggregate down it needs stamping in, we’ve not been able to flatten that because it has just been dropped.”

He said about 100 military personnel had been drafted in to help with the dam.

Addressing what would happen once people are given the green light to return home, Ms Swann said all cordons would be lifted and roads would go back to normal.

In the meantime, she insisted that security measures were still in force in the area after reports of burglaries and prowlers.

Ms Swann said: “We can assure you that security of the area continues. We are using drones regularly to patrol the area.”

Members of the public at the meeting were also told the dam would eventually have to be rebuilt.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency 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?”

Ms Swann ended the meeting by acknowledging that residents had become “increasingly fed-up” but thanked them for their co-operation.

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