The dam that didn’t break.

(This is a photo taken from a television account of the affair.)

The eyes of UK, and probably of much of the world, have been on Whaley Bridge where the dam on Toddbrook Reservoir threatened to collapse. If it had, the town would have been washed away, not just flooded.

Our eyes have been totally glued to the news. Whaley Bridge lies only a few miles from our house, and we have friends there. In fact, during the near-disaster we were looking after some dogs for friends who live in Whaley Bridge but were on holiday in Brazil. Their house, like those of others we know, was perfectly safe, being uphill of the reservoir, but they were watching the news from Brazil, and watching our FB posts with my husband’s photographs which charted some of the events.

Whilst there was total panic (or so it seemed) about what might happen downstream in the valley of the River Goyt if the dam broke, we weren’t personally threatened as our house is well above any potential flood level. However, we were very much affected by the entire affair. Roads were closed – sometimes arbitrarily, we all thought – and we had difficulty accessing the garage that looks after our cars. Bus routes were diverted, the Manchester-Sheffield rail line that goes through Whaley Bridge was closed, and you can imagine the knock-on effects on the whole area. Traffic chaos, rumours, and a lot of disbelief.

We had always known the dam was there, of course. But whoever allowed people to develop the little town on Whaley Bridge below it must, we thought, have been convinced it was all safe. Even now, with the reservoir empty and all danger averted, it seems foolhardy to drive along the main street, but it really is necessary at times! (For example, returning the dogs to their family…)

We have since seen short video footage of various local roads including some of the ones up in the hills; they were turned into rivers and will be needing repair for some time to come.

The reservoir was built by the Victorians and was intended to feed into the lock system for the local canals. We know a couple of people with narrow boats who were affected by the lock closures. Admittedly this aspect of things was ‘trivial’ in that it only affected leisure activities but it still added to the general regional disruption.

Obviously the people of Whaley Bridge who were evacuated were the ones who suffered most, and our hearts went out to them while we watched the weather forecast and hoped against hope that the reservoir would be emptied before further downpours. We had some sympathy for some people who refused to leave – apparently there was confusion about their animals and whether they could also be evacuated.

The army, police, fire service and lots of volunteers did a wonderful job, and in the end, the disaster didn’t happen. That was a matter of luck. Panorama (BBC) is currently filming interviews for a programme with a focus on Whaley Bridge but looking at a lot of UK reservoirs and dams. Let’s hope we don’t get any repeats of this summer’s events!

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