Extremely heavy rainfall in the north of England resulted in an unfolding crisis in the small town of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire.

On Thursday 1st August 2019, a large section of the dam wall of the Toddbrook Reservoir began to collapse, compromising the safety of all the inhabitants of the town. The reservoir sits at least 20 meters above the town, and a breach or possible failure of the dam wall that holds back 300 million gallons of water would have had catastrophic results for the town below.

All of Whaley Bridge’s residents were asked to leave their properties as the risk to life was far too great for them to remain in their homes. Residents of Whaley Bridge were asked to find accommodation with family and friends, and an evacuation shelter was set up at Chapel High School in nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith for those who were unable to make alternative arrangements.

The race to save Whaley Bridge was on.

Emergency service crews, employees from the Canal and Rivers Trust, and a local civil engineering firm, along with the Army and RAF worked tirelessly throughout the next 7 days to bring this emergency to a safe conclusion. Pumps were set up to divert water into surrounding waterways in an attempt to reduce the water level of the dam. The RAF began dropping bags of aggregate into the hole in the dam wall in an effort to strengthen the structure. Throughout the operation, over 525 one tonne bags of aggregate were dropped into the damaged spillway.

By 7pm on Tuesday 6th August, the water levels had been reduced by over 9 meters and the reservoir was at 17% of its holding capacity. Residents from Horwich End were allowed home. After 7 days of intense round the clockwork, on Wednesday 7th August it was finally safe enough for all the residents of Whaley Bridge to return home.

The total water level had been reduced by 10 meters, which will allow engineers to assess the damage to the spillway, and to begin the reconstruction work. Residents were told at a public meeting that the whole of the Toddbrook Reservoir will be rebuilt in the aftermath of this emergency. This will be a “long term construction project lasting years”.

During the height of the crisis, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Whaley Bridge and met with the emergency services and armed forces personnel as well as residents who had been displaced from their homes.

Throughout the entire duration of this event, RRT Teams from Manchester, Liverpool, Crewe, Chesterfield, Preston and Chester, attended this event to provide support and refreshments for the emergency services who were working tirelessly to bring this crisis to a safe conclusion.

Throughout the 8 days that RRT attended this event, we provided over 400 sandbags that were filled and distributed to residents throughout the area and provided approximately 4000 meals. Almost 1000 hours of labour were donated from our volunteer teams.

The residents of Whaley Bridge were nothing short of amazing during this entire time, and the community spirit that shone through these dark days was nothing short of incredible. The support that the emergency services were given by the local people is a tribute to them.

RRT provides refreshments for the emergency services at Whaley Bridge Dam incident

As a team, we intend to thank the residents for their patience and their inspiring community spirit. During the next couple of weeks, we will organise a free BBQ for the residents of Whaley Bridge as our way to say “WELCOME HOME”.

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