Toddbrook Reservoir one year on: Seven days that shook the Whaley Bridge community - but made it stronger

As they woke up and began to go about their business, the residents of Whaley Bridge could never have dreamt of the extraordinary events about to unfold in their charming and peaceful town

By Louise Cooper
Saturday, 1st August 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 3rd August 2020, 12:33 pm

But life was about to take a very dramatic turn – and propel them not only into a potentially catastrophic situation but also into the national and international spotlight.

A Chinook helicopter creates a rainbow in the spray as it prepares to drop sandbags onto the dam wall at Toddbrook reservoir. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Toddbrook Reservoir emergency anniversary

Last updated: Friday, 31 July, 2020, 14:26

  • August 1 marks a year since the crisis at Toddbrook Reservoir in Whaley Bridge began

It was August 1, 2019 when the crisis set to shake Whaley Bridge to its core began.

For days the area had suffered heavy rain with a number of properties in Buxton flooding just the day before.

Damage to the dam wall at Toddbrook Reservoir was discovered early on the day of August 1, but it was not yet clear just how serious the problem would be.

Our photographer Jason Chadwick was the first member of the press to arrive on the scene that morning.

“When I got there, there was only a couple of local police officers and no one had an inkling of what the situation was going to become," he said. 

“There was quite a relaxed atmosphere to start with, members of the public were there with their children. “

"There were weather-related things happening all over the county at that point and it would have been one of very many incidents that were drawing on the emergency services so it’s no surprise that it took a while for people to grasp the seriousness of the situation.”

But as time passed, and structural engineers and senior emergency services personnel began arriving at the site, it soon became apparent just how bad things were.

The possibilty that the dam would break and the water within would cascade down and flood the town was a scenario no one could even comprehend.

But for hours, which turned into days, this was a very real prospect.

Residents held their breath as they waited for news.

Emergency services at the scene on August 1, 2019

Road closures around the area began to be announced, shops were closed, and at just after 2pm on August 1, police confirmed that Whaley Bridge was being evacuated.

Leaving their homes, many families had no idea how long they’d be away for – or even if they’d have a property to return to.

Up at the dam, what was a Herculean effort from all involved was just getting started.

Police and firefighters from the local area and beyond were arriving at the site in droves, alongside the Canal and River Trust, who manage the reservoir, as well as a range of other partner agencies and volunteers to do what they could to save the dam.

Working through the day and long into the night the efforts to pump out the water from the reservoir continued.

Work to pump out water from the reservoir

An RAF Chinook helicopter was called in to help with the operation, dropping bags of aggregate to help shore up the dam.

Meanwhile, away from the dam, an incredible display of community spirit got underway.

People were providing catering supplies for the heroes involved with the critical operation, residents were opening their homes to offer shelter to those who had been forced to flee, and businesses were doing all they could to help out – from free taxi rides to food and accommodation.

These phenomenal efforts from everyone continued for several days until finally, after more than a week of tremendously hard fought battle, the team at the dam achieved their aim of reaching a safe water level.

The local area, and indeed the world, cheered on August 7 when news that all those residents who had been evacuated could return home was announced.

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