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Photo Gallery: The stormy night when Cromer Pier was sliced in two

PUBLISHED: 06:30 11 November 2013 | UPDATED: 10:03 12 November 2013

The 38m gap left in Cromer pier after it was ripped apart by a runaway rig in November 1993.

The 38m gap left in Cromer pier after it was ripped apart by a runaway rig in November 1993.

Archant

Twenty years ago this week Norfolk was shocked as Cromer's landmark pier was sliced in two by a runaway rig that surfed to shore driven by a Force 12 gale.

Tayjack timeline

3.45pm - Member of the public calls 999 to say the rig appears to be collapsing. Its legs snapped off and its deck crane was knocked off.

4.02pm - Other 999 calls flood in saying the unmanned rig is adrift. Coastguards deployed to keep watch.

4.30pm - Rig appears to be heading to shore at Wyndham Park midway between Runton and Cromer.

4.45pm - Pier evacuated and sightseers removed from forecourt.

4.55pm - Rig beached west of pier and began crabbing along the shoreline.

4.57pm - Strong possibility of a collision. Smell of leaking diesel from a 700-gallon fuel drum on board.

5.05pm - Rig alongside pier and starting to damage it

5.11pm - Metal accommodation container knocked off rig. Sparks from power cables as the rig saws through the structure

5.24pm - Rig passes through pier and heads east damaging groynes and leaving a trail of debris.

5.40pm - It heads to Overstrand where it finally comes to rest on a breakwater.

Coastguard office Mark Rodaway admits there was a danger of the rig smashing into the “business end” of the pier.

The pier has put on many spectacular shows over the years. But for sheer crowd-pulling drama the unrehearsed one on November 14 1993 sticks in memory of those who saw it.

It was a spectacular end to a solemn Remembrance Day, which earlier saw townsfolk turn out to honour the fallen of two world wars.

Hours later as the storm did its worst in the gathering darkness, disbelieving crowds gathered on the storm-lashed seafront to see the pier severed for the first time since the second world war when part of it was removed to hinder any invading German troops.

The Tayjack rig which did the damage had been working on the end of new sewer pipe at nearby East Runton.

Cromer pier, missing the landward end, after the rig went through on November 1993. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVECromer pier, missing the landward end, after the rig went through on November 1993. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Sparks from severed power cables hitting the boiling sea lit up the jaw-dropping scene, adding to the spectacle as waves continued to smash into the promenade sending plumes of water towering skywards.

Lifeboatmen who were heading to their pier end station to launch after seeing the drifting rig had to helplessly stand and watch it sweep away the landward third of the jetty.

Coxswain Richard Davies said: “It went through the pier like butter.”

By first light the next morning the full extent of the damage was clear - the worst since the theatre and boatshed were smashed by the 1953 surge.

A yawning 38m gap sat just behind twin domes of the pier forecourt shops.

In the days and weeks after the incident the town had a mini tourism boom, with people flocking to see the damage and repair work, prompting a surge in business for chippies and shops selling photographic film.

At Christmas an emergency rope bridge slung across the gap, to let the lifeboat reach their boat, was replaced by a metal footbridge, making the journey a little less “Indiana Jones.”

■For the full story and pictures buy today’s EDP.

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