5 Dec 2013

Sandbags and wellies: community battles the tidal surge

Over 15,000 homes are evacuated and lives are at risk. But residents in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, remain defiant in the face of the worst coastal tidal surge to hit the east coast for over 60 years.

At least 15,000 homes in the area were evacuated on Thursday after officials warn that the lives of people in the region could be at risk because of flooding.

Local officials set up emergency accommodation facilities and handed out sandbags to help people protect their homes. But there was defiance in the air, in the face of the extreme weather.

Read more: Gales and tidal surges - one dead as thousands evacuated

Anne Edwards, editor of the Great Yarmouth Mercury, said: “We’re staying put. The house we live in was flooded in 1953 and there’s a four-and-a-half foot-high water line in the dining room from then.

“We always knew we might be at risk of flooding, so there is a camping stove upstairs and we have water and cans of food.

“I’m going to get the paper out then go home for dinner, but then I’ll be back in the office later. I’ve got my wellies ready.”

Some residents of the seaside town of Jaywick, near Clacton, in Essex were also evacuated and police in Humberside declared an emergency situation.

So far the Environment Agency (EA) has issued more than 250 flood alerts across England and Wales, including 28 severe flood warnings which are only issued when flooding poses a “significant threat to life”.

The agency said communities along the North Sea coast from Northumberland to the Thames Estuary and Kent, in addition to those on the Irish Sea coast from Cumbria down to Cheshire, could see significant coastal flooding later today and into Friday.

We always knew we might be at risk of flooding, so there is a camping stove upstairs and we have water and cans of food – Anne Edwards, Great Yarmouth Mercury

A spokesman said in some areas sea levels could be higher than those during the devastating floods of 1953, but defences built since then – including the Thames and Hull barriers – mean that many parts of the country are much better protected.

However, some coastal flood defences could be “overtopped” by the combined effect of high tides, high winds and a large tidal surge, he said.

The weather also caused chaos to the UK’s rail network, with services for the entire of Scotland and parts of the north of England suspended.

Residents tweet from Great Yarmouth where homes are being evacuated: