Act now to stop another storm surge tragedy, says CLA
Sixty years ago over 300 people were killed by the great flood of 1953.
A storm surge combined with a spring tide swept a barrage of water over the sea walls of the east coast in one of Britain’s worst peace-time disasters.
From Grimsby and Cleethorpes in the north to Canvey Island in the south, via towns like Skegness, King’s Lynn, Lowestoft and Harwich, the sea dashed through streets and houses.
The victims, many of them elderly or bungalow dwellers, drowned or collapsed as they tried to escape. At Hunstanton in Norfolk a train collided with a house being swept along the track.
The worst incident was on Canvey Island in Essex, where 58 people died.
Along the Humber to the Thames estuary, thousands of sheep and cattle drowned and tracts of farmland were left infertile.
Nearly 25,000 homes were also damaged, some completely swept away.
Twice since that Sunday night of January 31, a comparable combination of spring tide and storm surge has raised the North Sea as high or even higher: in January 1978 and January 1983, according to the Meteorological Office’s storm tide warning service.
In recent times the Thames barrier has been raised to deal with lesser storm surges and high tides.
There has also been minor sea flooding around Colchester in Essex and Wells over the years.
But there has been no repeat of the 1953 tragedy because a major programme of rebuilding and heightening of east coast flood walls began soon after the catastrophe and the strengthened defences have taken the pressure.
But many miles of those sea walls are now weather-beaten and are in need of major maintenance, says CLA East rural adviser Tim Woodward.
“It would be foolish of us to believe nothing like the horror of six decades ago could happen again,” he says.
“I think we have to accept that it may be uneconomic for the Government and local authorities to maintain coastal defences to the extent that they have in the past.
“However, projects often appear not to be viable because financial tests fail to take into account the true value of farmland, rural communities, and the need for food and economic security.
“The CLA is lobbying for a constructive review of coastal defence policy for rural areas to involve new ways of working and encourage innovation.
“For example, we need to cut red tape to ensure that the system makes it easier for landowners to apply to maintain their own defences, perhaps in collaboration with local communities, and that they are fully rewarded for providing flood alleviation measures.
“Revenue from offshore wind farms might be used to help provide funding, with coastal defence work being made a condition of planning consent.
“There may also be scope for using defences based on natural processes and “soft” engineering techniques, with managed realignment of coasts and estuaries under voluntary agreements with landowners as part of a sustainable flood defence programme.”
For all the latest news see Thursday’s (January 24) Echo.
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Weather for Haverhill
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North