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WEST DORSET: Landslide dangers being ignored by the public
Beachgoers have been blasted for ignoring warnings about dangerous cliffs in the wake of the Burton Bradstock tragedy.
Police and volunteers from the National Coastwatch Institute said people are still dicing with death by heading on to shores along the West Dorset coast with cliffs behind.
They said that people have ignored requests despite knowing about the death of Charlotte Blackman.
The 22-year-old holidaymaker was killed by a rockfall on Burton Bradstock beach last week.
Council chiefs are urging people to avoid cliffs and beaches with a cliff backdrop until further notice.
The Burton Bradstock-based NCI has helped keep visitors on the 16-mile stretch of coast from West Bexington to Lyme Regis away from danger areas following the landslide – but not easily.
Everyone involved in the operation reported people – despite knowing of the tragedy – still sitting beneath cliffs on the coast.
Station manager Clive Edwards, who co-ordinated the watch’s emergency response team, said he was astounded by people’s actions.
He said: “We managed, within only an hour, to muster enough watchkeepers to have someone in NCI uniform present on the beaches at West Bexington, Cogden, Hive, Freshwater, West Bay , Eype, Charmouth and Lyme Regis, and as station manager I must confess to being very proud of our team.
“I covered the beaches at West Bay myself and was pretty horrified to find more than 70 people on the beach beneath the cliffs at around 8pm.
“It took me the best part of an hour to persuade all of them to move to a part of the beach where there were no overhanging unstable cliffs.
“I was very relieved no one actually argued or refused to move, although one couple did insist on continuing to walk in the wrong direction because they’d left their young son alone at the other end of the beach.
“What alarmed me most was the apparent surprise expressed by virtually everyone I spoke to that they might be in danger, despite most of them being aware of the 400-tonne rockfall a few hours previously.”
He said from the feedback from other watchkeepers at the other beaches the public’s reaction was more or less exactly the same, and there were even some instances of members of the public reacting badly to being advised to move to safer ground.
Lyme Regis harbourmaster Grahame Forshaw and PCSO Luke White went to a ‘sizeable’ landslip 1,000 metres east of Charmouth two days after Miss Blackman died.
Mr Forshaw said the slide was mud rather than rock but was still dangerous enough to kill.
He said: “Luke and I came across a couple of people who were adamant they were not going to move.
“They had seen all the TV, they had read all the papers and they didn’t want to move, they wanted to be left alone. It was astonishing.
“A little bit further along the coast we came across another chap, who was a very, very senior man in the military a few years ago.
“He knew all about it and had read all the papers and refused to budge.
“He was fishing on the water’s edge under a cliff not far away from this bit that was about to come down. He was adamant that he wasn’t going to move. It beggars belief.
“People need to realise that the coast under the cliffs is a dangerous place to be.
“You have only got to turn around and you can see the water oozing out and you can see small bits of pebbles coming down.
“It is obvious, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that the land is on the move.
“Then if they get stuck someone has to come and get them out.”
The Lyme Regis lifeboat crew spent 15 hours at sea during the landslide tragedy but were back in action warning beach users about the risks of landslides.
Three separate volunteer lifeboat crews went to sea throughout the day issuing warnings with a megaphone that sunbathers should not sit near overhanging cliffs.
Coastguards had asked the lifeboat crews to patrol the coast from Charmouth to Burton Bradstock issuing safety advice.
WEST DORSET OPEN FOR VISITORS
DAVID Evans, director of environment for West Dorset District Council, stressed that the county was still ‘open for visitors’.
He said: “This was an accident and I would stress that West Dorset remains open for visitors in this important part of the holiday season.”
But as a precaution sections of beaches had been closed where there risks. He added: “Public safety has to be of paramount consideration.”
Restrictions to beach access on the Jurassic Coast imposed after the fatal rock fall near Burton Bradstock have been lifted.
But visitors are still being warned to continue to take extra care and avoid areas with cliff backdrops.
The South West Coast Path between Lyme Regis and West Bexington has been reopened for all sections, except for the stretch between Freshwater Holiday Park and Hive Beach.
This will be reviewed when further safety assessments have been carried out.
Parts of the coast where visitors can access the beaches away from cliffs, such as Cogden, Hive, West Bay, Seatown, Charmouth and Lyme Regis beaches, are open as normal.
The advice is to stay well away from the cliffs and mudflows at all times, and to beware of quicksand and incoming tides cutting off access.
MORE graphic signs warning of rock falls were being put up before Tuesday’s tragedy but they were not yet in place at Freshwater or Burton Bradstock.
Although council officials are adamant that there are enough signs and information on the dangers of landslides on the advice of earth scientists the signs are to be more graphic.
Simon Parker, who is Dorset county emergency planning officer said: “We feel the measures that are in place are adequate to ensure people’s safety as long as they heed the precautions.”
But he said new more visual and more graphic signs are now being implemented.