70th anniversary of 1953 floods

70th anniversary of 1953 floods

It has been 70 years since a tidal wave in the North Sea caused flood damage across the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands and Southend-on-Sea City Council is reflecting on what the tragedy has taught us.

When the incident happened on the evening of January 31, 1953, there was no contingency planning, no warning system in place and a total of 2,551 people were killed across Europe as a direct result, 58 of them on nearby Canvey Island.

After widespread criticism of the lack of warning, many flood defences, including the Thames lockdown, have been implemented in the UK. And as technology has improved over the decades, so have the defenses.

As the lead local flood authority and coastal protection authority to meet these obligations, the Council has a number of strategies.

Cllr Carole Mulroney, Cabinet Member for Culture, Tourism and Environment, said: “While 70 years have been a lifetime, the lessons of the tragedy can be seen in our preparations today. We have no control over the weather but if there is another tidal wave at least we know we are as prepared as we can.”

Many of the council’s flood plans are part of planning for greater city resilience to plan for, respond to, and recover from emergencies such as flooding. The Council’s Emergency Resilience Team works closely with the Essex Police, Essex County Fire and Rescue, NHS, RNLI, Army and charities to coordinate efforts and take a common approach to protection, rescue and recovery from such incidents to provide. This coordination did not exist in 1953.

Cllr Stephen George, chairman of the council, said: “While it’s not good to always predict the worst-case scenario, planning for it means we’re always prepared. Thanks to our resilience team working in partnership, our plans are linked to all other emergency services and charities so everyone knows their role and responsibilities.

“A perfect recent example of this was the coronavirus pandemic and how a variety of organizations with different resources and expertise were able to help the community in a variety of ways for the benefit of all. I hope that should the worst happen again, we will respond more quickly and efficiently, but with the same sense of community as we did in 1953.”

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “Flood forecasts and warnings have been in place since the devastating East Coast floods of 1953. In 2013 flood warnings were issued 12 hours before flood peaks to allow those affected to take appropriate action. As a country, we are much better prepared than we were in 1953.

“Much of our investment in flood defenses has been focused in areas where there has been a high loss of life. Since 2005 over £400m has been spent on work to protect the coast and tidal waters of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.”

To learn more about the Council’s flood plans, please visit our flood pages.

Coastal Partnership East has put together a video of the 1953 and 2013 floods with first-hand accounts. Visit their website to check it out.

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