Storm surge breaks over Norfolk and Waveney coastline after community braced for the worst
- Credit: James Bass
Householders the length of the Norfolk and Waveney coastline breathed a sigh of relief as flood defences kept one of the biggest tidal surges in years at bay.
The Coastguard had warned high tides could reach the levels of 2013, when water levels exceeded those in the devastating floods of 1953.
Emergency services attempted to evacuate more than 5,000 homes on the coast yesterday and tonnes of sandbags helped construct makeshift defences against the sea waters.
Despite warnings given by emergency services groups of people continued to throng the coast around Great Yarmouth, and one man even leaped into the River Yare as the surge was approaching its height.
After a female police officer grabbed the man before the tide could sweep him away, he was promptly arrested for public order offences.
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An eyewitness said: 'I saw a female officer grab the man as the tide started to take him down the river. Her actions ultimately saved that man's life.'
Two hundred soldiers and an additional 50 police officers were deployed to Great Yarmouth to help with evacuations.
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Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service drew on national resources to double their capacity, including more high volume pumps and boats. 40 personnel from nine fire services were drafted in to assist in Norfolk including from South Wales, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire.
Crews responded to more than a dozen flood-related incidents, including people stuck in flood water at Salthouse and breaches in the sea defence at Great Yarmouth.
Troops from the Kings Royal Hussars deployed to Hemsby to warn and inform residents about the threat of coastal flooding.
The Bascule Bridge in Lowestoft and the Mutford Lock in Oulton Broad were closed from 8pm this evening, ahead of the tidal surge reaching its peak, and the Bascule has now re-opened.
Lowestoft train station and the lines which run in to and out of the station closed early.
Suffolk Police asked Greater Anglia and Network Rail to evacuate the station and close the lines for safety reasons.
Emergency rest centres were set up at Cliff Park Ormiston Academy, in Gorleston, Caister Academy, and Christ Church in King's Street, and manned by British Red Cross volunteers.
The Cromer tide gauge site recorded its highest ever water level since opening in 1984, with a storm surge of 1.5m above the high tide.
Cley bird reserve was flooded by 7.30pm, and homes at Hemsby at risk of erosion are teetering dangerously on the cliff edge.
The Environment Agency issued 42 flood alerts - including 12 severe warnings - across the county.
In North Norfolk a number of homes are without power in Walcott; however, it is not clear how many have been affected by flooding. The evacuation centre has now been moved from The Lighthouse to Stalham High School.
There is also flooding on some coastal roads in that area which has resulted in road closures and beach debris has been washed up onto the highway.
In Caister, the lifeboat station has been damaged; however, early reports suggest no significant incidents in the Hemsby area which is vulnerable to coastal erosion.
The Ormiston Academy and Caister Academy rest centres have now closed; however, Cliff Park Academy in Gorleston and Christ Church in Great Yarmouth remain open.
Norfolk's temporary Deputy Chief Constable Nick Dean, who is leading the multi-agency response, said: 'Although the risk of flooding has receded, we won't know the full extent of any damage caused by the high tides until daylight hours.
'While it appears we have avoided major flooding it is important for residents to understand that we were not prepared to risk people's lives on whether the area would significantly flood or not. Therefore we took the decision to evacuate areas which were most at risk. We've been well supported by the Environment Agency who used all the information available to them to try and predict the outcome, but as we all know we can never be certain on how things could develop.
'The evacuation exercise has been significant and successful and has required a tremendous effort by all those involved. I would like to pay tribute to all our partner agencies including military personnel and to all the volunteers who gave up their time to ensure people stayed safe. Had the sea breached significantly it is extremely likely that we would face major consequences.'
T/DCC Dean added: 'I would also like to thank residents in those areas most affected for their patience and co-operation during today. I understand that our requests would have caused disruption to people but our overriding concern always has to be to protect people from the risk that the flooding posed.'
Thousands of residents were advised to evacuate today which included over 5000 homes in the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston areas, 15 properties in Salthouse, and 56 in Walcott.
• Although the immediate danger is now over, members of the public are urged to stay vigilant and to check the Environment Agency website for the latest updates www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/31644.aspx.
People can also find out more information by calling the Agency's Floodline on 0845 988 1188.