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Whaley Bridge dam collapse: RAF Chinook brought in

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Media captionAn RAF Chinook is dropping 400 tonnes of aggregate to shore up the dam and divert water

An RAF helicopter has been brought in to help repair a damaged reservoir which threatens to flood a town.

Engineers have been pumping water out of Toddbrook Reservoir, in Derbyshire, after part of a dam wall collapsed.

The RAF Chinook is dropping 400 tonnes of aggregate in a bid to stop more water getting in.

About 1,500 Whaley Bridge residents evacuated the town on Thursday evening amid fears they were in “mortal danger”.

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Media captionAerial footage shows damage of Toddbrook Reservoir dam

They have been told the timescale for repairs is unknown.

A number of roads have been closed in the area, including the A6, the A5004 and Marsh Lane.

And further travel disruption is expected after East Midlands Trains said railway lines near Whaley Bridge remain closed.

The immediate plan of action

Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Engineers have pumped water out of the reservoir

The Chinook has been at the scene since about 05:00 BST.

Emergency workers and teams of engineers have been gathered on top of the concrete spillway on the embankment dam.

They are attempting to get the reservoir’s water level down, to reduce pressure on the wall and allow repairs to begin.

Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann, of Derbyshire Police, said the helicopter would aid efforts to drain the reservoir by dropping aggregate – a mixture of sand, gravel and crushed stones – on the “surrounding watercourses” which feed into it.

After that, Deputy Chief Constable Swann said, work on the wall of the dam could begin.

“With all that said, at this time the future of the dam wall remains in the balance and I would remind people of the very real danger posed to them should the wall collapse,” she added.

Where have people gone?

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Media captionCouncillor Martin Thomas said the town was “eerily quiet”

The Environment Agency said about 85% of people in Whaley Bridge had left their homes.

They were initially told to pack up their medication and pets and gather at an evacuation point at a local school.

Police said they had moved 1,000 people from the immediate area while many made their own way to relatives.

Resident Philip Jupp, who needs kidney dialysis, said he went to stay with his wife’s family.

“I have health issues but people have been so kind and have kept in good spirits, and people in Whaley Bridge are usually stalwarts.”

Others bedded down in pubs and hotels, with lots of businesses offering free rooms.

Area director Lee Rawlinson said the community spirit had been “fantastic”.

The Palace Hotel in Buxton said it was “all hands on deck” having taken in evacuated residents and emergency workers and was expecting more to arrive.

When will it be safe?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The clay under the slipway has been undermined

Police, the Environment Agency, and the Canal and River Trust had all said there is a “real risk” the dam could collapse.

Julie Sharman, from the Canal and Rivers Trust, said it was still “a critical situation” but the weather had improved and the water levels had reduced by 200mm.

“We aren’t putting a figure on any risk of collapse but everything that can be done is being done.

“The primary task at the moment is to load the front face of the dam to secure the structure, in parallel with lowering the water.

“It is very difficult to tell how long that will take,” she said.

Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Teams have worked through the night

The last annual inspection of the structure by a senior engineer was in November, the trust said.

Nigel Carson, who lives near the dam, said he had been told it would take two or three days to reduce the reservoir to a safe level if it did not rain.

There are no weather warnings in place on Friday, and the Met Office has said it expects much drier conditions.

What has happened?

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Media captionToddbrook Reservoir: Footage shows fast-flowing water before collapse

Part of the 300-million-gallon Toddbrook Reservoir’s spillway broke away on Thursday.

It was damaged after parts of the country were battered by heavy rain and floods earlier in the week.

Police told residents in Whaley Bridge to gather at Chapel High School in neighbouring Chapel-en-le-Frith.

They were told to take pets and medication with them as it was unclear how long it would take to repair the damaged wall.

Sixteen pumps from fire services across the country have been pumping out 7,000 litres of water a minute.

Assistant Chief Constable Kem Mehmet said police had plans for every scenario including the collapse of the dam, which holds back 1.3 million tonnes of water.

Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Sandbags are shoring up the structure

A severe flood warning, which means a threat to life, has been issued for the River Goyt below the reservoir.

A small number of properties in the nearby Furness Vale and New Mills areas were also evacuated on Thursday evening.

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