Whaley Bridge dam: First day back for town's residents

Lala Holden on a swing - parental permission given Image copyright Jacob King/PA Wire
Image caption Five-year-old Lala Holden played on a swing while work continued in the background to shore up the dam

Hundreds of people evacuated from a town have enjoyed their first day back after a damaged dam was declared safe.

Whaley Bridge, which became a ghost town when 1,500 people fled, has been getting back to normal as locals celebrate their long-awaited return.

Previously silent parks are filled with the sounds of children playing, and local business have been doing a roaring trade after six days away.

With optimism in the air, people spoke of their delight at being back.

'I only lost one beer'

Image caption Tony Gunner, landlord of The Goyt Inn, said there was a "lovely atmosphere" at the pub when residents returned

Tony Gunner and Jennifer Grant, landlord and landlady of The Goyt Inn, said their return home "felt a bit like Christmas Eve".

"It was a lovely atmosphere," said Mr Gunner. "Loads of regulars, loads of irregulars. I've never been hugged so much in all my life."

The pair spent two nights at a Travelodge and four nights at a friend's cottage nearby before learning they were allowed back.

"I was on the phone to the loss adjustor when Jennifer shouted that we were allowed back," he said.

Despite being concerned about his beer lines, after having to abandon the inn for a week, he said he only had to lose one pint.

"The rest got sunk last night," he said.

"This weekend we'll just be opening our doors and seeing who comes in.

"My biggest problem is getting some beer in - but we're sorting that now."

'Like England had won the World Cup'

Image caption Kelly Baker and her family were forced to stay with friends

Kelly Baker and her family went to stay with friends in Fernilee for six days.

"Once the village went quiet and the pubs had emptied, you could hear noise from the pumps at the dam quite loudly so that was a bit bizarre," she said.

"Yesterday we sat glued to Facebook waiting for updates. When it got to 14:00 and nothing had been announced we thought it wasn't looking good.

"But then when they finally said we could come home it was an amazing feeling. It was like England had won the World Cup.

"We could have lost everything, but we haven't. We're home."

'Nothing beats being in your home'

Image caption John Tindall and his wife tucked into a takeaway on their return to Whaley Bridge

Six nights in a hotel with complementary breakfast sounds like bliss for most of us, but John Tindall just wanted his home.

Mr Tindall, his wife and their dog spent six nights at the Palace Hotel in Buxton.

He said: "At first we thought it would just be one night but it kept getting extended," he said. "The staff were so nice and would put on a free breakfast every morning.

"Everyone says, 'It must have been nice staying at a hotel', and it was, but nothing beats being in your home."

He heard he could return at about 16:00 on Wednesday.

"When we first got back our first thought was food," he said.

"We ended up getting Chinese spare ribs and noodles. We also had a little walk around the town to see what was going on."

'The kids wanted their internet back'

Image caption Michelle and Elizabeth Lamb had to go to charity shops for clothes while away from home

Michelle Lamb told the BBC the first thing her family did was "get all the electrics sorted because the kids wanted the internet back on".

Ms Lamb said her family had been staying with friends in Buxton since being evacuated on Thursday.

"We left with nothing so we had to go to charity shops to get some clothes - a couple of sets - and keep washing them," she said.

She added she could not "thank enough" the friends who let her family stay.

"They were brilliant," she said. "We were just at the house when we heard we could go back.

"It felt so nice knowing we'd finally be spending the night back in our own beds."

Back in the swings

Image copyright Jacob King/PA Wire
Image caption Amelia Grace is free again to hone her footwork at a playground near the dam wall

Several families headed to Whaley Bridge Memorial Park - where you can catch a glimpse of the Toddbrook Reservoir dam - on Thursday.

Amelia Grace was one of many children seen playing football as emergency workers continued repairs nearby.

Her grandmother Linda Darby said: "It was quite frightening, and when we went into the park and looked up and saw the hole - it could have been so very different.

"But once it all settles down again, it will be back to little Whaley."

Derbyshire Police - which called the evacuation an "unprecedented crisis" - will remain in the area over the next week to "help the community and address any concerns".

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency has confirmed further inspections will take place as there is still "significant" work to be done to the dam.

Derbyshire County Council has pledged £160,000 of "additional funding" to help residents and businesses recover.

For now though, the overriding feeling around the town is one of relief and joy.

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