A minority of people refusing to leave their homes amid fears of a damaged dam bursting are "taking their lives into their own hands", a police chief has warned.

Twenty people, including a "small number" who were initially evacuated but have since returned to their homes, remain in 16 properties in the evacuation zone in the town of Whaley Bridge despite warnings of catastrophic consequences if the the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir collapses.

Should the dam collapse, it is thought residents would only have 60 seconds to reach higher ground before the water hit.

On Monday, Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Dhindsa, acknowledged locals had faced a "big disruption" as the around-the-clock operation to return to normal as quickly as possible continued but he stressed the number one priority remained "threat to life".

People who have defied orders to leave the area have been told they are risking lives. Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Speaking to up to 100 people packed into Taxal and Fernilee Primary School, he said: "We don’t want anyone to be devastated, we want to make sure we protect the properties of everybody.

"That is going to be difficult when there is an evacuation."

Mr Dhindsa added: "There is a minority number of people not wanting to leave their properties and they are taking their lives into their own hands.

"Police officers are going out to encourage them to come away until it is totally safe.

Work is carried out to drain the Toddbrook Reservoir Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Also addressing the meeting, Labour MP for High Peak, Ruth George, said it was hoped that inspections would be able to take place on Tuesday afternoon or evening as water continued to be drained from the reservoir.

She said: "I think they have dropped it about four metres now which is really good to see but they want it to go down another four metres so it is below the level of where the hole in the front of the dam is so that they know it is safe and then they can get the engineers properly looking at it and say ‘right is the whole structure safe?'.

"They are aiming, if all goes well and if we don’t get any rain, that some time tomorrow afternoon or evening that they might get to that level that they can inspect and then a decision will be made."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn attended the meeting and also viewed the ongoing repair work at the reservoir.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn looks at the Toddbrook Reservoir Credit: Danny Lawson/PA

Mr Corbyn said: "Incredible response by the community, the volunteers and I think really in co-ordination between the Environment Agency, the Canals and Rivers Turst, the county council, local authorities, police, RAF, everybody… really efficient.

"What you see is this incredible spirit around working so well together.

"I went out to talk to the construction workers who are repairing the dam.

"Well you have to just admire the skill of dropping a lot of aggregate in pinpoint accuracy and then back filling with concrete and further aggregate which they are doing now.

"Impressive but obviously the water levels have got to go down."

Credit: PA Graphics

Asked if he thought an inquiry should take place, Mr Corbyn replied: "Yes there has to be an inquiry.

"An inquiry to make sure all the co-ordination worked effectively and everything I have seen shows it did but there are always lessons to be learned."

More than 1,500 people have been evacuated from the town since Thursday following heavy rain.

Fire chiefs have said specialist engineers have monitored the dam wall 24 hours a day with lasers and are reassured by their assessment, with a seven-day estimate for how long people would be out of their homes a "worst case scenario".

On Monday, Colin Winterbottom, station manager at Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, said "around 30-40%" of the water at Toddbrook Reservoir had been removed over the last five days, adding another day of work will "probably see the dam down to a safe level".