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'There was a rumbling roar like Victoria Falls'

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 23, 2012

  • The lagoon in a field below, after the wall of the Grand Western Canal at Halberton was breached

  • The empty canal

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A Devon community hit by flooding has pulled together to protect itself from damage, writes Adam Walmesley.

Some 20 families were evacuate in Halberton near Tiverton on Wednesday night over fears that water from the second side of a collapsed canal would destroy their homes.

The Grand Western Canal breached its banks once two 100ft sections had collapsed under the weight of water from two days of torrential rain in the Mid Devon area.

A two-mile section of the canal drained through the hole left in the bank between Halberton and Sampford Peverell forming a lagoon in surrounding fields.

Engineers worked in pitch black conditions to stabilise the 200-year-old canal after a months' worth of rain reportedly fell in 48 hours. They removed tonnes of earth at the site leaving a hole the estimated height of a three-storey building.

Temporary dams were constructed to restrict the flow of escaping water, which at one stage was feared might cascade down into the village.

Police made an initial assessment over whether there was an immediate threat to human life.

Officers then worked alongside engineers to cordon off the area to the public.

Devon County Councillor Des Hannon, who represents Halberton, witnessed the canal bank collapse.

He said: "There was a deep rumbling roar reminiscent of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Then tonne-size chunks broke away and the water poured out.

"It looked like a casualty from the Bible."

He added: "Initially it was hard to persuade the services, who were extremely busy, that it was a genuine emergency.

"But anyone who saw the devastation for themselves realised what we were up against.

" It was extremely fortunate no one was killed."

Councillor Roger Croad, the County Council's cabinet member responsible for the canal said: "Quick thinking and actions by our Rangers yesterday morning to start damming the canal either side of the immediate problem area did lessen the impact.

"But clearly with the amount of water flowing into the canal and the erosion of the embankment at that point, the breach could not have been avoided."

Malcolm Trump, canal liaison officer, described the incident as an "Act of God".

"No one anticipated we would be working through the night to secure the canal and prevent a catastrophic disaster," he said.

Volunteers from the Mid Devon community stayed up through the night to help those in need.

Elderly residents took refuge in the village hall which became a co-ordination centre for police and other services.

Barrie Corden, chairman of the village hall, said it was the "most serious emergency incident" he had witnessed in the community.

John Gates, a village resident, said he was "gobsmacked" by what had happened to the canal.

Fellow resident Stephen Harvey, who walks by the canal every day, said: "It's a terrible incident to happen on such a beautiful canal."

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