EMOTIONAL Whaley Bridge residents have been told they’ll have just 70 seconds to escape if the dam bursts as thunderstorms and torrential rain batter the area today.
A further 55 homes have been evacuated as military and civilian teams battle to save the crumbling dam from collapsing.
The Met Office has issued a yellow weather warning and predicts a further two inches of rain will hit the Derbyshire town in just two hours this afternoon.
There remains a threat to life in the area and 55 further properties were cleared in the Horwich End area this weekend, on top of around 1,500 residents who had already been evacuated.
Derbyshire Police today said residents will no longer be allowed to return to their homes to collect vital items or pets.
The force tweeted: “The decision has today been taken to stop allowing evacuated residents back to their homes in Whaley Bridge. This is effective immediately.”
Meanwhile, police and soldiers in Manchester handed out leaflets yesterday in the Marple area of Stockport warning of further flooding and possible evacuations.
In Whaley Bridge, it’s feared the heavy rain will pour into the already bulging ToddBrook reservoir and burst the leaking dam wall.
A spokeswoman for Met Office said thunderstorms could strike any time between 1-8pm today.
She said: “There will be heavy rainfall in the Derbyshire area today with thunderstorms more likely than yesterday. The worse case scenario is that there could be 40mm of rain falling in the space of just two hours.”
Initially, tearful residents were allowed back into their homes for just 15 minute intervals to collect their belongings.
However, people who are still present in the town have been warned they would have just 70 seconds to reach higher ground before the water will reach them.
Emergency service vehicles will sound their horns three times to warn them if the dam bursts. A louder, hailer siren will follow, police said.
Val Fallon, 74, who has lived in Whaley Bridge for 22 years, said she was allowed to return to her home to collect some belongings.
She moved in a rush to her daughter’s house in nearby Macclesfield without any clothes.
Her beloved Jack Russell has not eaten anything since the move, she said.
Val, who owns an antique shop, added: “I would lose my shop and my house if it bursts. I’d lose everything. There is no point moving anything from the shop, I haven’t got enough time.
“They get you so panicked, you can’t think of all the things you’d need to take. I just dropped everything and fled when they evacuated the village. It was such a rush.”
Chief Superintendent Michelle Shooter said people should only return to their properties if it was absolutely necessary.
She said: “The state of the dam is still in a critical condition and that the risk of breach is still a very real threat.
“Residents wishing to return are reminded that this should be for essential belongings, medical supplies that cannot be got elsewhere and abandoned pets.
“Officers today have been confronted at cordons by residents wishing to return for issues which are deemed non-essential. Evacuation of people from their homes, was a decision which was not taken likely but has been done to offer maximum safety should we see a breach of the dam.”
Deputy Chief Fire Officer of Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service Gavin Tomlinson said crews were working to get “ahead of the curve and remove as much water as possible” in order to “minimise the impact of any bad weather that does materialise”.
Speaking about the prospect of the evacuated people moving back in, he told BBC Breakfast: “At the rate we are pumping, we are hoping certainly towards the end of the week we be in a position to be able to do that.”
A Met Office yellow weather warning is in place for much of northern England and the Midlands, including the area around the reservoir.
Meteorologist Mark Wilson said: “There is the potential for some thundery showers which could give some very unwelcome rain (in that area).
“There is the potential for 30-40mm in just one to two hours.”
Police said the added evacuations on Saturday evening were due to “a potential increase in risk of adverse weather in coming days and the ongoing risk of the Toddbrook Reservoir breaching”.
Residents evacuated on Thursday told how they grabbed medication and beloved pets when they were allowed to very briefly return home on Saturday, having been warned by police they did so at their own risk.
One woman broke down in tears as she spoke to a police officer before she was allowed to go into her home.
Margot Graham said: “The police told us to run if we heard three horn blasts. It was a ghost town.”
Peter Drinkwater, 79, said he tried to bring out his lifelong coin collection but it was too heavy to carry.
Water levels at the Toddbrook Reservoir have now been reduced by half a metre since Thursday but the damage to the 180-year-old structure remains at a “critical level”. It must drop 26ft before it can be declared safe.
An RAF Chinook and around 150 firefighters using high-volume pumps appear to have partly stabilised the reservoir’s spillway, with further pumps brought in by officials on Friday.
Pilots dropped more 400-tonne sandbags into the damaged wall as workers laid pipes to drain water from the 300-million gallon reservoir into the River Goyt.
Evacuated residents spent another night away from their homes on Friday and police warned it could be several days before they are allowed to return.
Thousands of residents have spent a second night away from their homes as police warn the dam is still at a “critical level” and there is a “substantial threat to life” should the dam wall collapse.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to re-house families evacuated amid fears the damaged reservoir dam could collapse and flood the town.
He promised the reservoir would have a “major rebuild” as he met locals at nearby Chapel-en-le-Frith High School, which is being used as an evacuation centre.
Describing the damage to the dam as “pretty scary”, he said: “The plan is to try and stop the dam breaking, clearly. And so a huge amount of effort is going into that.”
Mr Johnson, who arrived by helicopter, said he thought they had to get the level of the water down about eight metres, although there was some discussion with the surrounding officials about whether this was the exact figure.
He added: “I was talking to one of the villagers from Whaley Bridge who said that he remembered something like this happening 50 years ago.
“We’ve had an exceptional weather event, we must make sure that this dam can cope with it in the future.
“That will mean a major rebuild, clearly.”
Those evacuated from their homes were allowed to return briefly last night to pick up any vital items or pets.
The operation allowed just one person from each household to return for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Derbyshire Police said that any residents who re-entered Whaley Bridge would be doing so at their own risk and that the threat to life remained high.
A spokesman said: “The structural integrity of the dam wall is still at a critical level and there is still a substantial threat to life should the dam wall fail.
“We would ask for residents to continue to heed police advice and stay away from Whaley Bridge.”
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: “I think we’re still in that critical stage.”
Around 1,000 people were evacuated from the town but most found their own accommodation with family and friends, according to Derbyshire County Council.
Police have closed railway lines in the Whaley Bridge area over the risk of potential flooding which is due to continue into the weekend.
The reservoir is on the north-west edge of the Peak District National Park and was built in 1831, according to experts, although the Environment Agency records it as being built in 1840-41.
According to a 2011 Environment Agency report on national dam incidents, Toddbrook “has a history of leakage”.