Remembering the night the worst floods in 60 years swept through Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 08:52 05 December 2014 | UPDATED: 16:53 05 December 2014

Floods. Walcott damage after the sea surges.

Floods. Walcott damage after the sea surges. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

It’s one year on from the worst floods to hit the region for more than 60 years. Chris Bishop recalls the events of December 5.

Flood damage to Sheringham's west prom.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFlood damage to Sheringham's west prom. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Homes reduced to matchwood, businesses left underwater and parts of our coastline changed forever in the turn of a tide.

• ‘Warrior spirit’ keeps the Hemsby community fighting after last year’s tidal surge

• Lowestoft could benefit from £3million council funding for flood defence works

Flood damage. A resident at Salthouse tries to clear the water from her house.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLYFlood damage. A resident at Salthouse tries to clear the water from her house. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

• One year on from the tidal surge Hemsby receives good news in battle to save beach

From Snettisham to Salthouse, from Wells to Walcott, the night of December 5 showed just how vulnerable our low-lying shores are.

Norfolk lay smack bang in the path of a perfect storm, a triple whammy of the year’s highest tide, waves whipped up by a deep low pressure system and a northerly gale.

Defences along King’s Lynn’s historic waterfront came within inches of being overwhelmed by the swollen Ouse as the storm surged south through The Wash.

Officials feared the tide would be the biggest Lynn had ever seen, bigger than the deadly surge of 1953, with waves up to 2m high on top of its predicted level of 5.8m.

But the force seven north-westerly slackened before 7.15pm, when high water was expected. And apart from flooded car parks, the main casualty was Marriott’s Warehouse, whose cellars filled with brackish river water.

A woman was rescued from a houseboat in the Nar Loop, while a ferryman was arrested for his own safety after he refused to leave his vessel. Charges were later dropped.

As the tide moved north and east, it soon made its intentions clear. Hides on flagship nature reserves at Snettisham and Titchwell were flattened, while a metre of water crashed into Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary, knocking out its power supply.

Staff worked through the night and following day to save thousands of fish and other creatures as their tanks began to cool. The damage took 10 months to repair.

Surf chewed lumps out of the candy cliffs, leaving chalk and carrstone strewn across the beach amid the spindrift.

Then Wells was awash, as the tide coursed up The Run and onto the quay. Ten homes and 13 businesses were flooded around the harbour, including the Golden Fleece - whose new landlord Steve Brundle had moved in hours earlier.

It took months to get the pub shipshape again - along with nearby Sands Amusements arcade, Standard House Chandlery, Shop With a View and K’s.

Lifeboatmen opened the doors of their station and stayed with the town’s lifeboat so she could get out to sea if she was needed in the midst of the maelstrom. They knew they were on their own out there, right in the teeth of it, if anything went wrong.

Poor mobile phone signal meant flood wardens had to pedal around on bicycles delivering messages. They’re now equipped with radios.

Past Wells, the storm got its second wind, swiping the great shingle bank aside at Salthouse, flooding freshwater pools at Cley and leaving a gaping hole in Sheringham Prom.

Half the town watched from the cliffs above as the waves broke over Cromer Pier. The queen of the north coast stood firm and shrugged off the raging surf, as the waters rose around her. But damage to her decking, theatre floor and box office brought the curtain down on the Christmas show.

At Bacton and Walcott, the waves tore down the walls of seafront properties. Some of the 150 or so evacuated to the nearby Lighthouse Inn returned home after the waters had subsided to find they had lost everything.

Chalets and the old lifeboat station at Hemsby were smashed to pieces and properties were left teetering on a cliff edge.

They feared the worst in Great Yarmouth, where soldiers put up emergency defences and thousands were evacuated to makeshift rest centres.

Like Lynn, the town was spared the worst, with roads swamped but just a dozen homes flooded.

Firefighters were called out to rescue people from their homes as Lowestoft’s High Street flooded, leaving dirt and debris strewn behind. More than 70 spent the night in emergency accommodation, while across the town and neighbouring Oulton Broad some 90 commercial and 60 residential properties were flooded. In Southwold, seven commercial premises and two homes were flooded before the waters began to recede.

As dawn broke around the coast on December 6, there was hope among the tears. As the clear-up operation began, a community spirit shone through so strong the sea could never sink it.

Click here for our online archive of the floods.

Click here to buy your copy of “Turning the Tide”.

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