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By Mid Devon Gazette  |  Posted: November 27, 2012

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HALBERTON residents who sought refuge in the village hall were entertained by a presentation on Iceland as the Grand Western Canal drained into nearby fields.

A meeting of the Women's Institute remained uninterrupted on Wednesday evening while emergency services prepared the venue as a possible evacuation centre over fears of a second breach of the 200-year-old waterway.

Residents were concerned the south bank of the canal would also give way after a 100ft section on the north side collapsed under the weight of water from two days of torrential rain.

PCSO Adrian Legg, based in Cullompton, said: "We opened an incident room at the village hall and with thanks to the parish council, we prepared an evacuation centre – this allowed us to prepare for circumstances worse than those prevailing at the time.

"We only needed to accommodate four people and they had to share the hall with the WI which already had a booking.

"Those who were 'evacuated' had the chance to see a very detailed presentation on Iceland, so they watched that with members.

"And yes, they do still sing Jerusalem," added PCSO Legg, who was in charge of the incident room.

Police worked alongside Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, the Environment Agency, Devon County Council and Halberton Parish Council to reassure residents and make safe the canal which lost a two-mile stretch of water into nearby fields.

Engineers took to the skies with police to assess the risk potential from the air.

Engineers worked in pitch black conditions to stabilise the canal after a months' worth of rain reportedly fell in 48 hours. They removed tonnes of earth at the site leaving a hole with 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.

PCSO Aurea White, from Tiverton, attended the village in the first instance last Wednesday and decided residents and their properties were in potential danger.

Police are obliged to initiate such emergency centres and control them for an initial two hours before handing them over to the social services directorate of county councils, which looks after them for the long-term.

Fortunately, residents returned home after four hours of reassurance, warmth and refreshments.

PCSO Legg added: "Our remit was to reassure people and there was no panic, everybody was calm and rational and the people who came to the centre quite rightly wanted to be kept informed and were given regular updates on the scale of the incident.

"We really appreciate the cooperation of Halberton Parish Council and the Women's Institute."

Stephen Browse was among the eye witnesses and captured the breach on his mobile phone.

"It was quite frightening actually just seeing all of the earth erode away and it was like a big river flowing down," he said.

John Lane also saw the disaster unfold and at the time raised concerns whether Devon County Council will ever be able to repair the damage caused.

He said: "The ground shook under my feet and I have never seen anything like it and I never will again. They will never be able to repair it. The soil just eroded and the canal was dropping. There were fish flying everywhere."

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  • Liz46  |  November 27 2012, 9:21AM

    Looking at some of the terrible pictures of peoples' homes being flooded, I'm very pleased and relieved the Halberton residents were saved the misery of returning to a waterlogged home.