The Floods of 1953: Village and towns struck by tragedy

PUBLISHED: 09:15 01 February 2013

Snettisham during the 1953 floods

Snettisham during the 1953 floods


The overall death toll from the 1953 east coast floods is widely accepted as 307. As MARK NICHOLLS reports, Norfolk suffered badly.

Many of the victims of the 1953 floods died in the place they felt safest… their own homes.

As the howling winds forced millions of gallons of water down into the narrow funnel of the southern North Sea, there was only one escape route for the raging torrent and that was on to the flat lands of the east coast.

On the night of January 31, people in the towns of King’s Lynn and Hunstanton, Sheringham and Yarmouth and the villages of Snettisham, Heacham, Salthouse and Sea Palling were among thousands huddling in their homes as the storm became ever-more fearsome.

But against a huge wall of water bursting through sea walls and over flood defences, their homes crumbled or were smashed into wooden fragments with householders within.

In some areas, neighbours banged on doors urging their friends to leave before the water level rose too high. Those who stayed often became the casualties.

Others who died lost their lives courageously trying to save others. But many were too infirm, frail or young to withstand the tidal onslaught.

In Hunstanton, 31 people perished, 16 of them American service personnel and their families, including six from one household, as they lodged in wooden homes. This was part of a total of 66 fatalities in Snettisham, Heacham and Hunstanton.

In King’s Lynn there were 15 deaths, Yarmouth suffered 10 losses and the village of Sea Palling seven, including four from the same family.

Other villages such as Cley, Wiveton and Watlington had one death in each. In Salthouse there was the case of a husband who carried his wife on to the kitchen table after she broke her leg when water burst through the front door. But as he laid her on the kitchen table another wave swept her away to her death.

Lowestoft did not suffer any deaths on the night of the floods but days later it emerged that the Guava, with 11 men onboard, was lost at sea in the storm.

At Southwold, five died and further along the coast another 40 at Felixstowe, eight at Harwich and 37 in Jaywick. Worst hit was Canvey Island, with the whole area deluged and 11,000 homes affected. There were 58 deaths.

Lincolnshire was also badly hit, with 41 people being killed. Yet the worst loss of life was across the North Sea in Holland, where 1800 were killed by the floodwaters.

Many casualties died in the night, asleep in their beds and unaware of the approaching torrent until they were being swept away in it. This is why families that were affected were left often mourning more than one member of the household.

It has been argued that if there had been a warning system in place, many of those lives lost would have been saved.

Yet if not for the heroics of many people – some honoured, others rewarded merely with the satisfaction that they had done their best – so many others would also have perished.

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