Whaley Bridge dam: Evacuated residents can return home

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Media captionWhaley Bridge evacuation “like a disaster movie”

Hundreds of Whaley Bridge residents have been told they can return home, nearly a week after fears over a damaged dam saw them evacuated.

About 1,500 residents were removed from their homes on Thursday after the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir was damaged during heavy rain.

Emergency services worked to repair the dam wall and lower water to safe levels to allow people to return.

Derbyshire Police said it had been an “unprecedented crisis”.

But the immediate danger posed to Whaley Bridge and areas downstream in the Goyt Valley has now passed, according to the force.

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Image caption Cordons on roads into Whaley Bridge were lifted on Wednesday

Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann said at 13:00 BST on Wednesday the evacuation order for Whaley Bridge and surrounding areas had been lifted.

The danger posed by the dam “which would have destroyed homes and livelihoods, could not be underestimated”, she added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted he was “pleased to hear” residents were returning and paid tribute to their “spirit and patience”.

The first person to walk through the cordon, Liz McCann, said: “We’re home. That’s what we wanted. We’re all safe and we’re all together so there’s not a problem.”

Image caption Malcolm Swets wrote a message outside his shop to thank everyone who “saved Whaley”

The BBC’s North of England correspondent Danny Savage said the evacuation “has taken an emotional toll” on residents.

“At least two people I talked to were in tears,” he said.

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Image caption Phil Sharples returns to his house in Whaley Bridge

Jennifer Grant, landlady at The Goyt Inn, said she was “relieved and pleased” to have been allowed home.

“Thursday seems like a long time ago,” she said. “It’ll be good to catch up with everyone and hear their stories. We all survived.”

Resident Karen Edleston decided to get her hair cut soon after she returned to Whaley Bridge for the first time in six days.

She said: “I was desperate to get my hair cut because I’m going to a wedding on Saturday and I didn’t know where I would go if I didn’t come back here.

“So as soon as I realised it was open, I contacted [the hairdresser] and he agreed to come down.”

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Media captionWhaley Bridge bakers: “It’s been emotional, everyone’s crying”

Another resident, Bernie Sharples said: “It’s been an upsetting time but it’s absolutely fantastic [to be back] – all the authorities, the police, all who helped get us back here – a big thank you to everybody.”

Margot Graham, who spoke to the BBC during the emergency when she was briefly allowed back to her house, was in tears as she returned permanently.

“It’s very, very emotional. It’s an emotion I didn’t expect to experience at all,” she said.

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Image caption Karen Edleston headed straight for a haircut after returning to Whaley Bridge

Camilla Dignan, of The Bridge Bakehouse, aims to open on Thursday despite having had to throw most of her existing stock away.

She said: “We got the call [last] Thursday and it was literally just leave it, so it’s a bit of a nightmare but we are glad to be back.”

Fifty-five households in Horwich End were allowed to return on Tuesday by police after a public meeting.

The force and other agencies will help the remaining residents return to their homes on Wednesday, with police staying in the area over the next week “to help the community and address any concerns”.

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Media captionWhaley Bridge: How events unfolded

The Environment Agency (EA) has confirmed measures in place at the dam mean emergency services “will be able to manage the levels of rain forecast”.

But it said further inspections will take place as there is still “significant” work to be done to bring the dam to a condition where “long-term safety can be assured”.

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Malcolm Swets, manager of Goyt Wines, said he wanted to thank everyone involved in the emergency effort for the “professional way” they had gone about their business.

He said: “Everyone’s had their problems during the disruption but at the end of the day everybody’s safe and nobody got hurt.”

Derbyshire County Council leader Barry Lewis said the authority would provide £160,000 of “additional funding” to help residents and businesses recover.

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