Great Flood Remembered

Sixty years on from a huge flood which left towns along the east coast of England under several feet of water, the Environment Agency says we are now better protected than ever.

On 31st January 1953, high spring tides, deep atmospheric low pressure and exceptionally strong northerly gales led to sea water surging over coastal defences all the way down from Yorkshire to Deal, Kent, and sweeping two miles inland in some places.

Thousands of homes were evacuated as water rushed through streets.

Here in Kent, Whitstable, Herne Bay (pictured above and below), Sheppey and Thanet were among the worst affected areas.

Margate's pier was battered by the water and winds and the town's light house was destroyed, while the bill for damage caused to Sheerness Docks was £1.5million.

By the morning of February 1, the death toll in English coastal towns and villages was estimated at 307 (none of these were in Kent)in English coastal towns and villages. Many more died on the continent and at sea.

Capsized Frigate at SheernessThe disaster prompted millions of pounds of investment in to coastal defences, including the building of the Thames Barrier in London, and other barriers at Dartford and Queenborough.

Sea walls and groynes on beaches were also installed and built up.

Through ongoing improvements and maintenance, the Environment Agency says Kent and the UK is better protected that it ever has been, with better defences, warnings and systems.

But, it warns 1.3million people or one in 25 homes in England and Wales remains at risk of coastal flooding, with that figure expected to increase with a changing climate and rising sea levels.

Speaking ahead of a memorial service, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "The floods of 1953 saw the terrible loss of over 300 lives and devastating damage to thousands of homes.

"Today, people have a much better chance to protect their lives, loved ones and possessions and stay safe by signing up for the Environment Agency flood warnings.

"While the risk of extreme weather has never gone away, the country is better prepared than ever before to respond to major flooding and I thank the emergency services and Environment Agency for their hard work during the recent floods."

All photos copyright Derek A Darby

Click here for details of an exhibition on the flood at the Herne Bay museum and gallery