“Awesome effort to repair dam and safeguard lives has been nothing short of heroic”

This week, Derbyshire became the focus of one of the largest and most complex multi-agency emergency responses ever undertaken, writes Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa.

Wednesday, 7th August 2019, 7:56 pm
WHALEY BRIDGE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 05: Fire and Rescue service personnel place sandbags against the dam wall as as work continues to drain and shore up the damaged dam on August 5, 2019 in Whaley Bridge, England. Approximately 1,500 residents of the town's 6,500 population were forced to leave their homes after yesterday's partial collapse of the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir, in Derbyshire. Engineers have been pumping water from the reservoir overnight to reduce the water level. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

The awesome effort to repair the Toddbrook Reservoir dam and safeguard the lives of the community in its path should it give way at Whaley Bridge, has been nothing short of heroic.

For several relentless days, emergency responders worked around the clock to avert imminent disaster. Countless volunteers have provided crisis care and emergency supplies, helping to accommodate residents and replenish the energy of frontline responders with food and drink. The enormity of their service and actions will be appreciated for many, many years to come.

In the midst of the crisis, Derbyshire witnessed a new and profound sense of unity. The spirit of the Whaley Bridge community was remarkable. Even in such terrible circumstances and in the face of an impending catastrophe, goodwill, kindness and generosity prevailed.

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During my visits to the area this week, and during the residents’ meetings, I’ve been touched by so many moments of self-sacrifice and compassion, not just by those responsible for responding to this crisis but also those who live in the affected community and even wider afield than that.

Residents and businesses have really pulled together for the good of the whole town – even when everything they own or hold dear has been at stake.

There is a whole army of people and organisations to recognise, starting with Deputy Chief Constable Rachel Swann, whose exceptional leadership and unfaltering commitment has been imperative to the success of this operation.

As strategic coordinator, heading the multi-agency group tasked with responding to this critical incident, Rachel’s humanity and professionalism has been vital to the preservation of Whaley Bridge and the many emergency crews under her management. I know her sensitive approach, her accessibility at community meetings during which she fielded questions and concerns, has been greatly valued by the community and the many households affected.

I should mention the vast resources and technical expertise of our partners including the Fire and Rescue Service, RAF, the Environment Agency, the Canal and River Trust, Derbyshire County Council, the High Peak Borough Council and many, many more. We remain indebted to construction firm Kier which worked through the night building a road around the reservoir to ensure the mobility of the massive water pumps.

I should also note the contribution of police drones which have done a great job providing support to the emergency services and helping to protect evacuated properties.

It is impossible to put into words or give full justice to everyone who has contributed to this operation. The list is just too long. I’m grateful, and proud for the way in which Derbyshire rallied together to tackle a critical situation.

As this crisis moves from the emergency phase, a long-term rebuild project will undoubtedly get underway. But for now, at least it is important to reflect on the sheer magnitude of what has been achieved, or rather avoided, and give thanks to those who have made it possible.