Residents near dam ‘risking lives’ as they refuse to leave homes
Police have urged residents "putting their lives at risk" by refusing to leave their homes in the evacuation zone near a damaged dam to leave their properties.
Speaking to reporters after a residents' meeting in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, Detective Chief Constable Rachel Swann issued a stern warning, with 31 people from 22 households staying put.
It came after about 1,500 residents were earlier told they could briefly return to their homes on Sunday to collect their pets, medication and other necessary items.
"Sadly, a small number of residents refused to leave and by doing so they put their own lives at risk," she said. "We've not evacuated this for no reason, we've evacuated it because there is a real prospect that the dam could fail, and if it fails it is catastrophic.
"People would die if they were in that evacuation zone and so those people that remain in that zone are putting their lives at risk. They are also putting the lives of the responders – primarily the police – at risk, because we have to keep going in and speaking to them and asking them to leave and by refusing to do so I'm putting my staff at risk in order to do that.
"I would urge them to leave their properties and let us know they have left their properties."
Forecasts of further thunderstorms and heavy rain had forced police to reverse the decision to allow people into the evacuation zone amid heightened safety concerns over the dam.
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Derbyshire Police said its updated decision was made due to emergency service workers prioritising the "preservation of life".
However, Ms Swann said water levels at the Toddbrook Reservoir had decreased by three-and-a-half metres by mid-afternoon and that she was expecting it to have decreased further since then.
Authorities are aiming for water levels to drop by eight metres.
The officer said water was being pumped out at "maximum efficiency" and that doing it any faster could damage the dam.
Ms Swann said authorities were aiming to get people back in their homes "as soon as possible" but said she was "not prepared they can do that unless we get absolute assurance that it is safe for them to do so and there is appropriate mechanisms in place to keep the water level at a safe level".
Earlier, police said: "While there was an urgent need over the past 24 hours to allow residents back into the area, our first duty is to protect the lives of the public and emergency services."
After the residents' meeting, locals spoke to Sky News.
One man, who runs a butchers shop, said: "As a business in the village it was concerning there wasn't any information but now there is. Everything that you needed to know has now been dealt with and hopefully it [the water level] will keep going down and everything will be fine."
A woman who left her home on Thursday night said: "I think they [authorities] are doing an awful lot and an amazing job really and I feel much happier about it, we have been staying with friends – now we are off to some other friends so we are basically sofa surfing."
But some voiced their frustrations both inside and outside the meeting.
Fred Salmon, who runs The Bike Factory, said: "People want answers, why was it not maintained? People know the reservoir was running high for 12 months… we're shop owners and our people are wanting to get back, we've got orders, we're frustrated we can't get back in."