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‘I thought I was a goner’: Hero PC reveals Whaley Bridge dam was close to disaster | UK News

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A police officer who put his life on the line to save the dam at Whaley Bridge has revealed for the first time just how close they came to disaster. 

At the height of the crisis in the Derbyshire town in August, emergency services were told the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir was very likely to collapse and send over a billion litres of water into the town.

Everyone in the middle of Whaley Bridge was told to leave their homes and businesses immediately.

A bag of concrete is thrown onto the damaged Toddbrook Reservoir
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Hundreds of sandbags were used to save the town from disaster

However far-fetched it seemed, this picturesque town faced the prospect of being buried under water, mud and debris.

Even though the risk didn’t seem obvious, police officers were going door to door telling people why they needed to get out. They weren’t messing around.

“Put it like this, get out of this area or you are going to die,” one female officer told residents.

Just a few locals decided to defy the order – to them the risk seemed overblown.

Above the town though, the reservoir that has sat above Whaley Bridge for almost two centuries was teetering on the edge of disaster.

Days of torrential rain meant water was raging over the dam wall. It had ripped a huge section of the wall away exposing the clay bank beneath it.

PC Geoff Marshall returned to the dam with Sky News to explain for the first time how he thought he was “a goner”
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PC Marshall (left) said colleagues shouted at him to get off when the clay bank suddenly opened up

As a team of experts, police officers and mountain rescue teams gathered next to the wall, overlooking the damage, the scenario they faced was sinking in.

Despite the danger, there was no shortage of volunteers to step onto the dam wall to try to stop it breaching.

But a decision was taken that just one police officer could go down.

The mission was to put in place about 300-400 sandbags to divert water away from the damaged section.

That police officer, PC Geoff Marshall, returned to the dam with Sky News to explain for the first time how he thought he was “a goner” while working on the crumbling wall.

He explained: “It was time-critical, we were told the dam was going to go if nothing was done and we were here to help.”

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes
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Emergency services were told the dam was likely to burst

He said the team was aware of what would have happened had it given way.

“The town wouldn’t have been there, that was the way it was told to us, the town wouldn’t have been there.

“It would have just been covered with mud.”

His colleague, Chief Inspector Paul Markham, had just finished a full day shift when he volunteered to oversee the overnight operation.

He told Sky News: “When I came on (8pm) the information I was given was that if we do nothing that dam will go.

Emergency services in the village of Whaley Bridge, Cheshire as the nearby Toddbrook Reservoir was damaged in heavy rainfall. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday August 1, 2019. See PA story WEATHER Rain. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
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Whaley Bridge was eerily empty as emergency services evacuated the town

“There was six times more water coming into the dam than we were getting out.”

That’s why Geoff’s sandbagging mission was so critical.

PC Marshall added: “The other lads were on the top passing the bags down and I was just loading them – so they were working just as hard.

“At one point (we asked) can we have a discussion about it?

“The engineer said if you discuss it don’t bother… it was that close.”

As PC Marshall worked alone on the dam wall his colleagues suddenly shouted at him to get off.

It was around 09:30pm. The clay bank that had held until then had suddenly opened up.

“They shouted loudly at me to get off… There was a real gush of water… it came bursting out so everybody had to be evacuated and I think they started to get people to higher ground in the town as well.

“You think potentially you are a goner.”

Chief Inspector Markham received the information back at base. His instinct was that was the moment they might lose the dam, but thankfully it held. The gush of water stopped.



Residents of Whaley Bridge have been told it is safe to return to their homes following successful efforts to prevent a damaged dam from collapsing



August: Emotional returns for Whaley Bridge residents

Mr Markham added: “We are asking them to do things that put their lives at risk, not one of them questioned it.

“Professionalism kicks in and you get on with the job and you stop that dam going.”

Further fraught calls continued through the night between the engineers and Mr Markham, who knew the risks they were asking their colleagues to take.

But by daybreak, high volume water pumps were starting to drain the reservoir.

More were to arrive in the coming days, and as the water level started to go down so did pressure on the dam wall.

The fresh bags of aggregate will help the old ones settle
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The RAF helicopter helped shore up the dam

The RAF came in with a Chinook helicopter to drop tonnes of bags of stone into the damaged section to help shore up the damage.

Those bags are still there as the reservoir operators, the Canal and River Trust, work on how they secure and safeguard the reservoir for the future.

In short, Whaley Bridge got lucky last August.

PC Geoff Marshall was by no means alone as he worked on the dam wall but without his efforts and bravery it could have been very different.

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