RAF and a damaged dam

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

Emergency crews are racing to save a damaged reservoir, as “terrified” residents fear their Derbyshire town could be flooded.

Police say the wall holding back the 300-million-gallon Toddbrook Reservoir could still fail despite about 24 hours of efforts to shore it up.

Part of the dam wall collapsed on Thursday afternoon.

The 1,500 people evacuated from Whaley Bridge amid “mortal danger” warnings will not be allowed home tonight.

But the water level has dropped by half a meter thanks to ten fire service pumps moving 4.2 million litres of water every hour – with more pumps on the way.

An RAF helicopter is also halfway through dropping 400 tonnes of aggregate on the collapsed section.

How dangerous is it?

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

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

Julie Sharman, from the Canal and Rivers Trust, said it was “a critical situation” but added the weather had improved and the water levels had reduced by 20cm.

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

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

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Image caption The dam holds back 1.3 million tonnes of water

What does it mean for residents?

About 1,500 people left their homes after police told them to pack up their medication and pets and gather at an evacuation point.

Some stayed with relatives while others bedded down in pubs and hotels, with lots of businesses offering free rooms.

Police said residents would not be allowed back on Friday so would spend a second night away from their homes.

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Image caption Bev Goodwin has put up friends and family after they left Whaley Bridge

Bev Goodwin lives in Chapel-en-le-Frith and put up her mum and dad, Joy and Steve and two friends – Susie and Angela.

Joy said: “We have nothing. No clothes, no toothbrush, nothing.

“We have been thinking about what’s in our house that we would miss – all our kids’ pictures and of our grandchildren – it’s upsetting.”

Susie said: “It’s just surreal that it’s happening in our town, it’s just bizarre.”

Mike Breslin described it as a “crazy situation”.

“They should never have built a school and a social club at the bottom of a dam. It’s madness,” he said.

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Image caption Resident Mike Breslin said it was ‘madness’ to build a school at the base of the dam

Eric Baker, who has lived in the town for 30 years said: “It’s shocking really, it’s like living next to a ticking bomb. If that goes the devastation will be unimaginable.

“We saw the water coming over at a tremendous rate on Wednesday and the park was flooded but it wasn’t until Thursday the people who look after it started to look worried.

“Then it started to collapse on Thursday and it made a tremendous noise as the concrete slabs began to collapse.

“The disruption is huge, the small shops and businesses are really being hit and of course we don’t know when it will be over.”

BBC Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Public agencies and the army have been praised for their efforts

Another resident, who did not want to be named, said: “We just fled. I managed to take my nightdress and we’ve got the tortoise in the washing up bowl in the car.

“It’s quite terrifying. If the dam goes, it will take out the whole town.”

When will it be fixed?

news Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Teams have worked through the night

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 does not rain.

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

BBC reporter Richard Stead described the operation to fix the dam as “a two-pronged attack”.

He said: “The Chinook is bringing aggregate on the one hand to shore up the dam, but also to divert water further up the valley away from the reservoir.

“There are also 16 high-volume pumps being used to relieve the pressure on the dam.

“Only when that is done can work start on permanent repairs and finding out what went wrong.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked the Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers to chair an emergency meeting.

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Ms Villiers said she was receiving regular updates on the situation and the government’s COBR committee would make sure everything possible was being done to help.

People have shared their admiration for the emergency services on social media, with Twitter user @nmstoker naming the chinook pilots #DamUnbusters.

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Analysis

By David Shukman, BBC science editor

This isn’t the first time communities have faced the nightmare of a dam that could collapse.

Back in 2007 a dam near Rotherham was the cause of a major alert, and the scenario is very similar to now. Torrential rain had filled the Ulley reservoir to overflowing.

Cracks appeared in the dam itself. People downstream were told to leave. The M1 motorway was in the path of a potential burst so part of it was closed.

As with the dam at Whaley Bridge, the one at Ulley was built in the 19th Century with the same combination of clay and mud.

In the end, pumps relieved the pressure and nearly 3000 tonnes of rock strengthened the structure so the emergency passed.

But over the following three years a huge repair operation costing £3.8m was needed. And a major review of the 2007 floods was highly critical of the way many of Britain’s dams are monitored.

Whatever happens at Whaley Bridge, questions will be asked about safety and whether ageing infrastructure can cope with the heavier downpours predicted as the climate warms.

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What happened?

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

Part of the reservoir’s spillway broke away on Thursday.

It was damaged after large swathes 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.

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

Army engineers are clearing trees and bushes to get “five or six” more water pumps in on south side of reservoir.

Derbyshire Fire & Rescue Service said more than 150 firefighters from across the UK have been supporting the work at the dam and in the town.

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

BBC Image copyright LincsFireOfficer
Image caption Sandbags are shoring up the structure

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Climatic change and human impact on climate

Scientists say July at least equalled and may have beaten hottest month on record

climate change

The record-breaking heatwave that roasted Europe last month was a one-in-a-thousand-year event made up to 100 times more likely by human-driven climate change, scientists have calculated.

Around the globe, July at least equalled and may have surpassed the hottest month on record, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization. This followed the warmest June on record.

Temperature records were broken in many countries, wildfires continue to devastate vast areas of Siberia, the Greenland ice sheet is melting at a near record rate, and the risk of drought has grown more acute across wide areas of central and eastern Europe.

The extreme heat is particularly unusual because it is not an El Nio year the phenomenon usually associated with prolonged temperature surges. Instead, scientists say it is driven to a large extent by carbon emissions from car exhausts, power plant chimneys, burning forests and other human sources.

How much these factors loaded the dice in the two- to three-day heatwave during the last week of July was the subject of an attribution study by a consortium of meteorologists and climatologists at the UK Met Office, Oxford University and other prominent European institutions.

It found that the extreme heat in France and the Netherlands, where temperatures peaked above 40C, was made at least 10 times and possibly more than 100 times more likely by climate change. In the UK, which set a record of 38.7C on 25 July, the human impact on the climate made the high temperatures at least two to three times more probable.

There was considerable variation from place to place, but in all the studied locations the scientists said it would have been 1.5C to 3C cooler without climate change.

Satellite
A Nasa satellite image shows winds carrying plumes of smoke over Russia, centre right, as wildfires raged in Siberia. Photograph: Joshua Stevens/Nasa/AP

 

Although the recent heat has been described as historic, it is unlikely to remain that way for long, according to the authors of the study. It will not make history. These records will be broken in few years, said Friederike Otto, of the University of Oxford. What we see with European heatwaves is that all the climate models are underestimating the change that we see. She said further study would investigate how likely it was to have two intense heatwaves in the space of two months.

The paper says the extreme heat will have an impact on human wellbeing, though the data on this often lags, which can mean it fails to draw much public attention.

Heatwaves during the height of summer pose a substantial risk to human health and are potentially lethal, the paper says. The full impact is known only after a few weeks when the mortality figures have been analysed. Effective heat emergency plans, together with accurate weather forecasts such as those issued before this heatwave, reduce impacts and are becoming even more important in light of the rising risks.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, who has called a special climate summit of world leaders in September, said the seasons were moving alarmingly far from their usual path. We have always lived through hot summers, but this is not the summer of our youth. This is not your grandfathers summer, he said. Preventing irreversible climate disruption is the race of our lives, and for our lives. It is a race that we can and must win.

The World Meteorological Organization expects 2015-19 to be the warmest five-year period ever recorded. July has rewritten climate history, with dozens of new temperature records at local, national and global level, said the organisations secretary general, Petteri Taalas. Unprecedented wildfires raged in the Arctic for the second consecutive month, devastating once pristine forests which used to absorb carbon dioxide and instead turning them into fiery sources of greenhouse gases. This is not science fiction. It is the reality of climate change. It is happening now and it will worsen in the future without urgent climate action.

 

 

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