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Photo gallery: Tidal surge heroes who battled to save lives and property honoured, one year on

PUBLISHED: 06:00 06 December 2014

 The EDP Norfolk and Suffolk Flood Heroes night at Drayton Hall. The Tunnel to Towers team.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

The EDP Norfolk and Suffolk Flood Heroes night at Drayton Hall. The Tunnel to Towers team. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Archant Norfolk.

Hundreds of men and women who battled through the night to save life and property during the devastating tidal surge were last night honoured for their efforts.

Firefighters, police officers, ambulance staff, lifeboat crews, flood wardens, council officers, community groups and concerned neighbours were among those singled out at yesterday’s thank you evening, held exactly one year after the December 5 emergency.

Many received a special campaign “medal” - a limited edition lapel badge - struck by the EDP to celebrate those who helped save our region from the worst effects of the surge.

Guests at the event, held at Drayton Hall and hosted by EDP editor Nigel Pickover, heard first-hand stories from emergency service chiefs about the night our coastal communities faced their biggest threat since the devastating floods of 1953.

Norfolk’s chief fire officer Nigel Williams said: “As the day started to move forward, I was not frightened we would not be able to do it. I just thought this is our time. This is a once in a lifetime to show our communities what we can do, and I knew we could do it.”

He said that, for him, the most nervous part of that day was “when to press the button” to mobilise help from around the country.

Throughout the day, support surged in from inland counties and distant regions, with emergency services rushing with blue lights flashing to help avert disaster. The army was also called in.

The audience rose to a give firefighters from London and Surrey, and their dog Dylan, a standing ovation.

Mr Williams recalled how communication was a key part of the operation which helped avoid a single death, in contrast to the terrible losses inflicted in 1953.

He said the emergency services across the country were like kindred spirits, with chiefs in Humberside and Lincolnshire phoning him to warn the surge had hit them, and was worse then expected. He in turn passed the message to Essex as the tide continued to sweep around the coast

BBC Inside Out presenter David Whiteley recalled how he was filming a piece for the One Show about the efforts of Hemsby residents to raise money for their own sea defences on the day the surge struck.

He showed the audience footage from the coastal village, taken at the height of the emergency, of villagers rallying around their neighbours to salvage items from their home as the sea threatened to wash it away.

He said: “I have probably seen that 1,000 times, and it still gets me.”

Deputy chief constable Charlie Hall, whose gold command at police headquarters in Wymondham co-ordinated the work of fire, police, ambulance, the Environment Agency, Norfolk County Council, district councils, power networks, voluntary groups and the health sector, said the operation drew on the lessons of a similar emergency in 2007.

The group had 98 miles of coast under threat, but thanks to 2007 they already knew vital information such as how many police it took to knock on 9,000 doors in five hours.

Tony Garbutt, of the HM Coastguard, recalled how flood response was not the first responsibility of the coastguards, but as soon as it became clear how serious the situation was, “it was an easy call to headquarters to say we need to be involved”.

However, he added: “I feel that we actually had the easy part, dealing with the 48 hours. That’s what we train for. The great work that was put in by the communities themselves in the weeks and months that followed was awe inspiring.”

As the sun rose the following morning, the scale of the devastation around our coast became clear, with hundreds of people suffering terrible damage to homes and businesses. The EDP Norfolk and Lowestoft Flood Appeal was born.

Graham Tuttle, chief executive of the Norfolk Community Foundation, recalled his initial hope that it might raise £50,000. In the end, generous donors gave £330,000, helping more than 300 families.

He said the appeal was so successful that seven counties adopted is as a model when flooding hit their areas earlier this year.

The EDP, in conjunction with the Norfolk Community Foundation, has set up a £10,000 fund to help Norfolk when it is needed. The fighting fund, which follows the success of the flood appeal, will be ready to help within hours.

How did the flood affect you? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, EDP, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE or email EDPLetters@archant.co.uk


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