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Families flee tidal flood in Britain

A coastguard vehicle drives through a flooded road in the village of Walcott near Great Yarmouth, eastern England, yesterday. Police urged thousands of families to leave their homes as the Norfolk and Kent coasts braced for severe flooding from a tidal surge in the North Sea. England`s east coast, however, was spared massive flooding yesterday as tides receded after peaking about 20 centimetres below levels that had been feared.

A coastguard vehicle drives through a flooded road in the village of Walcott near Great Yarmouth, eastern England, yesterday. Police urged thousands of families to leave their homes as the Norfolk and Kent coasts braced for severe flooding from a tidal surge in the North Sea. England`s east coast, however, was spared massive flooding yesterday as tides receded after peaking about 20 centimetres below levels that had been feared.

Police urged thousands of British families to leave their homes yesterday as the Norfolk and Kent coasts braced for severe flooding from a tidal surge in the North Sea.

Police went door to door to urge residents of 7,500 homes in Norfolk, on the east coast of England, to leave, or if they have nowhere to go, to move onto upper floors and lock their doors.

Hundreds of families moved into school buildings where local authorities said they had room for 3,500 people. Highways and railways to the town of Great Yarmouth were closed. More than 200 elderly residents were evacuated from care homes.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a pre-dawn meeting of COBRA, the government's top emergency committee, hours before the tidal flood was expected to strike.

"Officers knocking on doors are giving (people) advice to leave their homes and move in with friends and family outside the affected area," a Norfolk police spokesman said. "We are urging the public not to panic."

Weather experts invoked images of the major floods of 1953 that hit eastern England and the Netherlands, and said the Dutch and German coasts were again also at high risk from the storm surge coupled with spring tides and low pressure.

"A tidal surge of up to three metres is making its way down the North Sea which could coincide with high tides," Environment Secretary Hilary Benn told the House of Commons on Thursday.

In Great Yarmouth, a small number of surfers in wet suits were out trying to catch a wave as sun rose above the beach.

"We are gravely concerned about the scope for serious flooding," an Environment Agency spokesman told BBC Radio.

Less severe flood warnings were also in place in Yorkshire and Kent.

Mr Benn said police were on standby in areas likely to be affected to coordinate the response to any flooding, including evacuation if needed.

"There is a risk of flood defences being overtopped on the coast and in tidal rivers especially in East Anglia, particularly the Norfolk Broads, the coast south of Great Yarmouth, including Lowestoft, and areas south of this as far as the coast of Kent," he said.

The Met Office said northwesterly winds exceeding 50 mph were coinciding with low pressure and high tides to produce the exceptional conditions.

East Anglia last suffered coastal flooding in 1993 and 1978. A severe North Sea flood in 1953 killed around 300 on the English east coast and more than 1,800 in the Netherlands.

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