A RESERVOIR dam feared to be on the verge of collapse is facing a ‘critical’ moment as the military and emergency services work to stop it bursting.
An RAF Chinook helicopter has been dropping one-tonne sandbags on to the damage to bolster the structure.
Water flowing into Toddbrook Reservoir was ‘reduced considerably’ overnight. But engineers remain ‘very concerned’ about the integrity of the damaged 180-year-old structure, which contains around 1.3million tonnes of water.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the Derbyshire town of Whaley Bridge over fears the dam could rupture and flood their homes.
Julie Sharman, chief operating officer of the Canal and River Trust which runs the reservoir, said water levels had reduced by around 8in (200mm) overnight.
She said: ‘It is a critical situation at this point in time. And until we’re beyond that critical situation, the risk is a material risk and that’s why we’ve taken the action we have.’
Ms Sharman said engineers have told her the crucial clay core of the dam is intact, but it is vital to replace the load on the core lost when the earth was eroded.
The RAF Chinook sandbag drops and firefighters using high-volume pumps appear to have partly stabilised the ‘unprecedented, fast-moving, emergency situation’ caused by heavy rain.
Improving weather and work on the inflows mean the amount of water entering the reservoir has also reduced.
Derbyshire chief fire officer Terry McDermott said there were 150 firefighters at the reservoir with 10 high-volume pumping crews. But he said despite progress, engineers remained ‘very concerned’ about the situation.
Mr McDermott said: ‘The structural engineer is saying if we don’t do something, there will be a problem.
‘It’s not going to go away on its own. It’s absolutely necessary, the activity that’s going on at the moment.’
The 10 pumps are currently being used to get around 4.2million litres of water an hour out of the reservoir, the National Fire Chiefs Council said.
They are expected to continue shifting water for around two to three days, it added.
Police have also closed railway lines in the Whaley Bridge area over the risk of potential flooding.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said ‘first responders, engineers and RAF crews are working around the clock to fix the dam’ and he has ordered environment secretary Theresa Villiers to chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee.
Around 1,000 people were evacuated from the town but most found their own accommodation with family and friends, according to Derbyshire county council.
Julie Odams, the authority’s assistant director of communications and customers, said: ‘The evacuation generally was very, very smooth but it was disruptive for people and the time for leaving wasn’t great, so people weren’t able to collect everything they wanted to.
‘We’ve not had anybody who’s been very distressed or anything like that.’
Police said a timescale for the evacuees to return home was ‘currently unknown’.
Carolyn Whittle, whose home is on the hillside in Whaley Bridge, said: ‘I’ve lived in Whaley for the best part of 45 years and I’ve never seen water flood over the dam like that, ever, nor thought that we could possibly be at risk.’
The Environment Agency issued a ‘danger to life’ warning covering the River Goyt yesterday, as it could ‘rise rapidly’ due to water rushing in from the reservoir.
Meanwhile, clean-up operations are under way across parts of the north-west hit by heavy rain, including Poynton in Cheshire, where residents were evacuated on Wednesday night.
The Environment Agency has 10 flood alerts, six flood warnings and one severe flood warning in place across England.