Communities along the east coast of England are this week marking the 70th anniversary of the East Coast Tidal Surge which devastated parts of the country.
In January 1953, the coastline was hit by the worst flooding in living memory, with 307 people tragically killed, 24,500 homes damaged or destroyed and over 30,000 people evacuated.
A number of extreme weather events – high natural tides, a major coastal surge on the North Sea and very high winds – combined over an 8-hour period on 31 January and 1 February 1953.
The flood surged along the coast, from Yorkshire to Kent, as well as other parts of Northern Europe, resulting in 1,800 deaths in the Netherlands and 19 in Scotland.
Commemorative events will be taking place around the East Coast including in King’s Lynn – where 15 people died – with a memory wall erected at the town Minster. The Environment Agency’s flood defence barriers at Hull, Boston, Ipswich and Thames will also be lit up at dusk on 31 January.
EA FCRM Executive Director Caroline Douglass said:
As we remember those who tragically lost their lives 70 years ago, this anniversary should serve as a reminder of the devastation flooding can cause to communities.
We are far better prepared than we were back in 1953 with huge advances in forecasting, warning and defences – but extreme flooding could strike at any time and is only set to increase with a changing climate and rising sea levels.
Being prepared for coastal flooding could save your family, possessions, and livelihood. People should check if they are at risk on the Environment Agency website, sign up for free flood warnings and make sure your property is resilient to flooding.
Floods Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Newsreel footage from the time shows the true devastation across the East of England for people, their homes, and businesses.
The surge has left a lasting mark on communities even to this day and I hope we can all come together to remember and reflect upon this tragedy.
I know first-hand the trauma a flood can cause. Investment in recent years along with our new record funding will go a long way to reassure people that communities right across the country are better protected.
There have been many improvements in flood prevention since the East Coast Tidal Surge which mean that communities in England are much better protected now.
In 1953, there was no flood warning system. Now, over 1.6 million people are signed up to receive flood warnings, giving them vital time to prepare. Long-lead flood forecasts have also been introduced, including the use of tide, wave and weather data, allowing businesses and emergency responders to prepare well in advance.
The Environment Agency has since built key defences such as the state-of-the-art Thames Barrier which protects almost 1.5 million people from tidal flood risk, as well as improved sea defences in many areas across the country. Much of the investment in flood prevention has been focused upon areas where there was major loss of life in 1953.
Met Office Head of Situational Awareness, Will Lang, said:
Although the low-pressure storm system, the high tides and the resulting storm surge were forecast well in advance back in January 1953, many people along the east coast of the UK were just not prepared. Since that time much more effective warning systems have been developed.
Storm surges still happen but these days warnings are more effectively and widely communicated and people are much more aware of the risks.
Flood defences provide vital protection to many communities, but tidal surges still happen regularly along the coast and flooding events are happening more frequently due to climate change.
Wet weather at the start of this year alone has caused flooding and travel disruption in parts of the country. While this has sadly led to the flooding of around 130 properties, over 5,000 properties have been protected across the West Midlands, Yorkshire, in the South West and along the Thames.
Around 1.9 million homes are at risk of coastal flooding and parts of England’s coast are amongst the fastest eroding coastline in Europe. By 2100 once-a-century sea level events are set to become annual events.
The Environment Agency is urging people to take three simple steps:
The EA is taking action to ensure that we are better protected against increasing extreme weather events. We have just completed a £2.6 billion programme with the government, better protecting 314,000 properties. Of this, £1.2 billion was invested to better protect around 200,000 homes from coastal erosion and sea flooding.
The Government is also investing £200m for the Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation programme to support local places including coastal communities. It includes the £36 million Coastal transition accelerators programme which will support communities in areas at significant risk of coastal erosion to transition and adapt to a changing climate.