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5,000-tonne landslide closes beach

By This is Exeter  |  Posted: February 23, 2010

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FEARS are mounting that a Torquay beach may suffer another major landslip after 5,000 tonnes of boulders crashed down on the sealed-off site over the weekend.

Concerns were raised when a giant crack was spotted in the unstable cliff-face above Oddicombe Beach yesterday after the previous night's rock fall.

An air, land and sea search was immediately launched by the emergency services amid fears someone may have been caught under the Sunday night landslide.

Firefighters, coastguards, police, lifeboatmen and a helicopter crew from RAF Chivenor scoured the huge pile of sandstone boulders which collapsed onto the beach at 10pm.

Yesterday, neighbourhood beat manager PC Lee Metherell, who recommended the subsequent beach closure, said: "There is a very large chunk of rock just waiting to come down. There is certainly more to follow.

"It's very unstable there. You can tell from the crack that it's going to go.

"The area is not safe and public access is being restricted."

The northern section of the beach has remained out of bounds since a similar disaster eight years ago.

The beach has now been closed completely by Torbay Council for the next few days.

The alarm was raised by two men fishing off Babbacombe Pier who heard 'an almighty rumbling noise' at the same time as seeing a flash of light in the area of the fall.

It was the light which prompted the emergency services to launch their full-scale search which lasted more than four hours. No one was found.

Thermal imaging equipment and night-vision goggles were used by the searchers. No one has subsequently been reported as a missing person.

Among those involved in the night-time search was Torbay Coastguard station manager Steve Perrett, who said afterwards: "It was a precautionary search more than anything else because the light had been seen.

"It could have been a fisherman in the area or someone out walking their dog.

"Because the area was so unstable we could not approach the area under the rock fall in case of further landslips.

"We called the RAF helicopter out to use thermal imaging cameras over the area of the fall and to see if anyone may have been cut off by the landslide."

He said the Teignmouth Lifeboat crew also took part by wearing night-vision goggles offshore as a further check for possible casualties.

Firefighters from Torquay also used their thermal imaging equipment to double-check the area.

Spokesman Dave Crawford said: "The fisherman raised the alarm after hearing a rumbling sound. They didn't see anything of the fall, but they did spot the light."

A Torbay Council spokesperson said in a statement yesterday: "The 5,000-tonne rock fall was from the unstable sandstone cliffs to the rear of the north beach, and has covered a large section of the previously closed foreshore.

"This area of beach has been closed off since 2002 when the degree of cliff instability was first identified.

"This is the second major rock fall since this time, reinforcing the decision to close this section of the beach.

"Secondary rock falls are still occurring and the whole of Oddicombe Beach will now be closed for several days.

"Members of the public are reminded to keep to the designated open area of Oddicombe Beach and not to ignore the 'beach closed from this point' signs."

The Oddicombe Beach cafe is closed for the season.

A friend of owners Gayle and Adele Farrell said: "I went down to check for them. The sea was red. It was amazing."

The earth-coloured scar in the cliffs to the north end of the beach was clearly visible from the viewing platform at Babbacombe Downs after the incident.

The fissure stretched from beyond the bottom of the gardens of Ridgemount House, a boarded-up property at the top of the cliffs in Redcliffe Road, to the beach.

The search team later checked the property and found no part of it had been affected by the landslip.

Alice Watson, 52, from Redcliffe Road, lives next door to the six-bedroomed, detached Ridgemount House, which sits on top of the cliffs above the rock fall.

She said she didn't hear the sound of the earth movement but did catch the noise of the helicopter hovering above their house.

It is understood blighted Ridgemount House may have been sold at auction last week for almost £150,000.

An auctioneers' website said the property 'had suffered from severe structural damage and may be beyond economical repair'.

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    Alan, Torquay  |  February 24 2010, 11:32AM

    Ann @ 13.57. Your comments are somewhat undermined by your inability to type in a version of English recognisable to the great majority. Apart from that, your thoughts are, shall we say to be kind, utter garbage.

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    Mississippi John Hurt, Paignton  |  February 23 2010, 7:58PM

    Didn't Nick Bye and the other Tories do Geography at school? Unless the base of the cliff is protected with rip-rap (boulders like the ones being piled up at the harbour) or some other form of protection this will keep happening. The same goes for Hollocombe Beach where the cliff face has been repaired but the base of the cliff has been left exposed to erosion from the waves.

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    Ali, Paignton  |  February 23 2010, 7:18PM

    You are all a bit rude. I found this interesting.

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    terrence, lambeth, s london  |  February 23 2010, 4:31PM

    Oh God you missed the town hall.You missed the Mayor and his thieving ideas. You missed the overpaid councilors and their evil self indulgent local laws that favour them. May you strike them down and return them to hell, Amen

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    ann, torquay  |  February 23 2010, 1:57PM

    now mother nature has had revenge on a good veiw ,weather errotion , why not do the same as rockwalk and pay out ratepayers money try to convince us the council were not aware it would ever happen when the trees where cut down.

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    peter, bab  |  February 23 2010, 12:14PM

    the 'beach closed from this point' sign has in fact been washed away by the tide with only a small stump of post left at low tide.

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    Geoff, Torquay  |  February 23 2010, 11:14AM

    There is usually evidence, (sleeping bags and food packaging) of people spending the night there, either travelers or homeless people. I doubt that they would have someone come forward to say they were missing. As for thermal imaging... the best camera in the world would not see through all that rock.

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    Kevin Hughes, Torquay  |  February 23 2010, 10:13AM

    Wow. Front page news if ever I saw it.