Sixty four years ago… part 2

I wrote yesterday about the ghastly and tragic events on the night of January 31st and the morning of February 1st in 1953, when a tremendous storm surge flooded across teh east coast of Scotalnd and England, and the adjacent Dutch coastline:
1953: Violent storms claim hundreds of lives

Hundreds of people living on the east coast of Britain have died in some of the worst storms ever recorded. Gale force northerly winds lashed the coastline and broke through flood defences from Yorkshire down to Kent throughout the night.
Swelling tides and high winds mixed to form a fatal combination which claimed dozens of lives and flooded thousands of homes on low-lying land all along the east coast. Many people were forced to spend the night on their rooftops waiting to be rescued by over-stretched emergency services.

‘Exceptionally strong winds’

The storm began on the west coast of Ireland yesterday morning, passed over Orkney and then funnelled down the North Sea, driving a deadly mountain of water before it. The Princess Victoria ferry, travelling from Scotland to Ireland, was forced to abandon ship in the Irish Sea after it was caught in the heavy storms. The death toll reached 130. Warnings of “rather high tides” issued by the Dutch authorities did not reach Britain and it is known many people in both Holland and Belgium also lost their lives.

The eye of the storm hit eastern Scotland at approximately midday yesterday as Dunstable Met Office warned of “exceptionally strong winds”. The first fatalities on land were reported at approximately 1700 hrs yesterday after 20ft (6m) waves crashed through flood defences in Lincolnshire. More than 40 people are feared drowned. Throughout the night the high winds travelled down the east coast ripping through sea walls and claiming dozens of lives.

Counties worst affected were Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. In Canvey Island, Essex, the entire 13,000-strong population was moved to safety as the bad weather took hold. Essex police said they had recovered 30 bodies during the night. Eye-witnesses up and down the country said water was gushing through streets and thousands of homes were flooded.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/1/newsid_3749000/3749771.stm

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/in-depth/1953-east-coast-flood

Sixty four years ago…

I often think that water is my element, but water is deceptively dangerous… and not just for those who swim in it or sail or take boats on it… sometimes even in a person’s own home water can devastate and have a deadly power.
Sixty-four years ago, on the night of January 31st and the morning of February 1st 1953, due to  extraordinary weather conditions – a deep Atlantic depression swept eastwards past the north of Scotland and roared southeastwards through the North Sea. There were northerly gales on the western side of this depression, and they forced the sea water southwards. There was a high spring tide and the storm surge roared towards the coast of eastern England – and across the channel to the Netherlands, and the sea defences were utterly inadequate.
These days with mass communication  it is possible to give some warning, even in the most ghastly and dramatic events, but in 1953 all people had was the radio – not many houses had telephones, and even if they had, it would have been almost impossible to get in touch with enough people in time.

So it was night-time, pitch black on a January night, a storm was raging, and along the coast of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent a tidal surge more than eighteen and a half foot high above normal sea level – as high as many of the cottages and bungalows along the coastline, rushed ashore blown on winds gusting at over 125mph.

People were safe and snug at home, children in bed, parents reading the newspaper or doing the chores, when out of the darkness, born on the wind, came water.

Tragically people died… 307 people in England, 19 in Scotland, and 1800 poor souls in the Netherlands. In England, 160,000 acres were flooded – the land unusable for years afterwards – think of the impact on agriculture… the whole infrastructure of the affected areas was down, gasworks, power stations, transport, every form of transport – road, rail and river, sewerage, fresh water… the cost was reckoned then to be £53,000,000 – today that would equal over £1.2 billion…

You can read more about it here, and also what has happened since to try and avoid such a disaster – as far as possible:

http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/news/in-depth/1953-east-coast-flood

Visit this page to see what happened to our Dutch neighbours across the sea:

http://www.deltawerken.com/The-flood-of-1953/89.html

The Somersetshire Drainage Act of 1877

Combwich (4)“Stockland, Bridgwater & Pawlett, Cannington & Wembdon, West Sedgemoor, Langport and Kings Sedgemoor & Cary Valley were formed under the Somersetshire Drainage Act of 1877”

Since late medieval times there had been Commissioners of Sewers for Somerset; they had been responsible for a massive area of 160,000 acres. There were ‘officials’ known as ‘viewers and ‘dyke reeves’ who were responsible to local landowners who had charge of a particular area. later they also had more duties imposed on them as grander schemes for the drainage and management of the Somerset levels were introduced. However, gradually the responsibilities for these water management schemes devolved onto the commissioners of sewers once these works were finished.

The River Parrett Navigation Company was formed in 1836; ‘navigation’ here means waterways, not steering ships upon them. The Act mentioned on this notice had an important effect on the management of this very watery area: the Somerset Drainage Act (1877) gave the control of the area of the River Axe, River Brue River  Parrett, River Tone, River  Ile and River Yeo to the new Drainage Commissioners and ten new internal drainage boards were created.

Another flood, a forgotten flood

I read an article about a dreadful flood, a flood which happened here in England, a flood where more than a hundred buildings, houses, mills, and farms, 250 people died although the exact figure is not known and it may be that more than 300 people were lost. The youngest person who perished was just two days old, the eldest was 78.

This flood happened when a reservoir eight miles from Sheffield in Yorkshire broke its dam and a torrent raged down the Loxley and Don valleys, engulfing all in its path. The reason that not many people now about it is because this awful inundation took place 150 years ago today, March 11, 1864.

It happened when the Dale Dyke Dam at Bradfield began to collapse… a watchman noticed a crack, just wide enough to put the blade of a knife in… then it was wide enough for a finger… despite the efforts of the work teams which did their best and tried to relieve the build up of water behind the dam, it gave way and disaster ensued. It is unimaginable, the thought of that huge force racing down the valleys sweeping all in its path, many of whom would have drowned as they slept, or were crushed under mud and tumbling buildings.

Whole villages were completely swept away, Bradfield, Damflask, Little Matlock, Loxley, Malin Bridge, Owlerton and Sheffield and Rotherham were feet deep in water, filled with the usual disgusting and toxic detritus of floods.

At the time poor construction was blamed for the disaster, the engineers who designed and built it castigated; however, it hs since been discovered that there were issues with the supposedly watertight clay liner of the embankment on the dam.

Read more about it here, including some contemporary illustrations:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-south-yorkshire-26478728

, and here, with some interesting photographs:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2576850/Sheffield-floods-Memorial-events-begin-marking-150th-anniversary-disaster-saw-240-people-die-new-dam-burst.html?ITO=1490&ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490

Peter Machan has written a book about it:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dramatic-Story-Sheffield-Flood/dp/1901587053/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394554305&sr=1-1&keywords=Peter+Machan%2C

Keeping us safe

Uphill Feb 16th 2014 (64)There was a flood here about thirty years ago where much of the village was inundated; thankfully defences were put in place which we hope will save us should there be another set of circumstances which might combine to put us at risk. Heavy rain fall on the nearby hills, or snow melt, a high equinoctial tide, an onshore wind… a deadly combination. heavy gates can be drawn across the sea wall and the sluice shut, meadows flooded and we hope we will be safe!

And now Bridgwater is at risk…

bridgy feb (37)I posted this photo a few days ago, commenting on the amount of silt and vegetation which had grown along the River Parrett in Bridgwater – you can clearly see how it is so silted along the sides which used to be where ships moored, that reeds and rushes and other plants have grown… now because of the state of the river, upstream from here, the Somerset levels have flooded and now Bridgwater is also at risk.  There is a wall being built around parts of the town to try and protect it from the rising waters, Dutch engineers and Dutch pumps have been brought from Holland, and the Army is helping out too… a dreadful state of affairs…

Staying put in the floods

There are twenty-five square miles of flood in south Somerset… villages are feet under water, and land has been swamped for over a month. Some people have moved out of their inundated homes, some people have been told by the emergency services to move out; however they can’t be forced out, and some people are staying in their flooded property.

What would I do? We have made a flood plan, just in case things go wrong here as we live very near the sea. We would move upstairs, but at what point would we leave our home? You see when there are floods it isn’t just gas and electricity which no longer work, it also the water supply, no fresh water from the taps, not able to flush the toilet or have a shower… it is ghastly to think about.

So why do some people stay on in their property when it is so dreadfully difficult, and must be very frightening… in the winter dark with no power and water rising all around, and more rain coming down… yes, it’s raining again.

There is an article on the BBC web-site about why some people are choosing to stay. One person says that as they are among the last 20% to be flooded, they will be the first 20% to drain… he’s moved his valuables upstairs and he’s sitting it out. Someone else has a friend who came to stay with her pets, driven out of her home, and now she is flooded too; she has a horse and nowhere to put it, she’s in a cottage so can’t get the furniture upstairs and she just seems in a panic as to what to do, poor soul. Another man has his neighbours and their animals living with him and they’ve sandbagged the place, hoping to keep the water out. Someone else isn’t flooded, but everywhere around her is, she’s completely cut off. An elderly couple are staying put because they think they would worry about their house even more if they abandoned it.

I think until you’re confronted with a situation like this, none of us can properly tell what we would do.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-26081455