Logs reveal how close King’s Lynn came to flooding durign December storm surge

The Custom House surrounded by flood water during the December surge. Picture: Matthew Usher.

The Custom House surrounded by flood water during the December surge. Picture: Matthew Usher.

© Archant Norfolk 2013

Officials feared King’s Lynn’s flood defences would be overwhelmed, as last December’s storm surge tore down the North Sea towards Norfolk, newly released documents show.

The revelation is included in logs made by Environment Agency officers, as the night of the December 5 storm unfolded.

Copies of the documents have been released to the EDP under Freedom of Information (FOI) rules.

A note made during the early evening warns: “This forecast tide is the highest that the defences in K/Lynn will ever have been subjected to. A 5.8m tide will put 0.8m against the gates. Forecast includes F7 WNW wind + 1-2m waves. HWQ is expected 19:15.”

Earlier in the day properties along the quayside, including Three Crowns House, had been evacuated and drivers had been warned to remove cars parked along the waterfront. Officials believed the gates would contain the water and prevent it flooding low-lying areas of the town.

But at 6.45pm, an officer asks: “Forecasting reporting that in the North east levels are coming in 400mm above the forecast. This might not happen further down the coast but what’s the impact if it does?”

A colleague in Lynn replied: “An additional 400mm would take it above the King’s Lynn gate levels.”

Over the next hour the wind changed - preventing the defences from being overwhelmed.

In a statement, the EA said Lynn’s defences were designed to withstand a flood with a 1:200 to 1:1000 year return period (a flood with a 0.5 - 0.1pc chance of happening in any year).

It said evacuation plans for Lynn were being updated, adding: “If it looks like a Severe Flood Warning is necessary then the LRF (Local resilience Forum) multi-agency partnership would decide if/when to activate evacuation plans.

“The Norfolk LRF do not take the decision to evacuate King’s Lynn lightly. The logistics of an evacuation would be extremely difficult and the movement of such a large population could result in more danger to local people.

“It would only be considered if there was likely to be significant overtopping of the sea defences or there was a known defect in any element of the defences which constituted a risk of failure. This was not the case on December 5.”

Brian Long, West Norfolk council’s portfolio holder for the environment, said: “There was a slight drop in the wind levels and a slight directional change. When the tide came it was four or five inches within the tops of all the gates.

“Appropriate warnings were issued, King’s Lynn was one down from the maximum, because there wasn’t an imminent threat to life.

“I sometimes think it would be better if they had stronger powers to evacuate people when they think lives are in danger.”

Tides of similar height to those during the December storms were predicted along parts of Norfolk’s coastline two weeks ago.

But strong winds accompanying the remnants of Hurricane Bertha caused the sea to surge away from our shores.

Mr Long said the council had learned from the storm surge. He said storm boards protecting Hunstanton’s sea front would be re-designed, as the waves had simply lifted them out of their mountings, allowing parts of the Promenade to flood.

“The other thing is obviously the integrity of the flood gates in King’s Lynn,” he added. “The EA is doing repairs at the moment, working on them to improve them. There’s an ongoing debate whether or not they need to be made higher.”

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