East coast flood threat not over, environment secretary warns
Cleanup has begun after floods on Thursday night but Owen Paterson warns of further 'exceptionally high tides'
As thousands of people began cleaning up after record-breaking high tides flooded homes and other buildings along Britain's east coast, ministers warned the crisis was not over yet.
While flood defences and flood warnings leading to mass evacuations in some towns on Thursday night were credited with saving lives, authorities warned that more high tides were expected later on Friday and Saturday.
Although only two people are known to have died in the storms so far– in separate incidents on Thursday – Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, warned that the crisis was not over.
"There will still be exceptionally high tides today and tomorrow, and I would urge everybody to pay very close attention to advice from the Environment Agency and also to follow instructions from the police, local government and emergency services."
Despite overnight flooding not being as severe as expected, it still brought disruption to large areas of England on Friday
When Ray Mooney went to his bathroom in Hemsby, Norfolk, on Thursday night and heard two ominous cracks, he thought it wise to heed police advice and leave his home. When he returned an hour later to pick up some paperwork, the phone rang and he answered it. His brother's call may have saved his life: at that moment the rear of his property, a wooden cottage, disappeared into a tumultuous sea that had swept away 30ft of sand dune.
"We heard a big crack and the whole floor disappeared. All the mains water from the washing machine squirted out," said Mooney. The 55-year-old's dream home by the sea was damaged by the storm surge which left three other properties dangling on the edge.
Another couple whose home was destroyed only escaped at the last minute, with their sofa, two kittens, and some Christmas presents.
Mooney bought his home seven years ago for £40,000 when it was "barely a shed" and spent years doing it up.
The wooden building still looks immaculate from the front with a neat green lawn, but is hanging off the sandy cliff at the back. Mooney had just agreed to sell the property for £46,000 but now fears he will be left homeless and penniless if insurers refuse to pay up. He was able to drag his landline out of his house and sat on his lawn making calls at lunchtime on Friday as a second spring tide clawed at the sandy cliff below.
In Boston, Lincolnshire, where seawater was forced upstream and eventually spilled over the riverbanks on Thursday night, the water was back down to a normal level. Mud and debris on the riverside showed how high the water reached. Locals said they had not seen anything like it.
Paul Kenny, the mayor of the town, estimated that 1,000 properties have been affected. "At 7pm the water was about a foot off the top of the bank. By 20 past it was as high as that wall. I was standing on the bridge and it was like looking at a lake.
"There's probably about 1,000 properties that have been affected in the town." On one street by the church the water was flowing "like a torrent, 18 inches high". he said.
"I was standing next to one of the restaurant owners – he was in tears. I have lived here for 20-odd years and have always heard that Boston could potentially flood. Everything that we dreaded happened last night."
Rachel Lauberts, one of the Boston Greenscapers, said they had just reworked the riverside and planted their winter pansies for the Britain in Bloom competition.
Cleaning up the leaves, mud and debris, she said: "It's a bit devastating, but they are plants. It's the homes and the people that actually matter."
Lincolnshire police said people evacuated in the county could start returning to their homes but were asked to make sure they talked to a uniformed officer in their street before entering properties so they could assess the risk first. Anyone with concerns over the safety of gas and electricity supplies should not use them and contact providers to get expert advice.
Sandwich, in Kent, escaped lightly. About 20 homes closest to the Quay, where the flood defences are currently being improved in a £21m scheme, are thought to have suffered flooding when the defences were overtopped. About 178 properties were evacuated with some residents spending the night in a local leisure centre.
Strand Street, one of the main streets in the centre of Sandwich, remains closed where Environment Agency staff set up a temporary barrier. On Thursday night residents queued for an allocation of 10 sandbags per house, some using borrowed shopping trolleys to carry them. Residents have been warned the emergency is not over, with a second high tide forecast for Friday afternoon.
The Environment Agency said that in some places on the east coast sea levels were even higher during Thursday's storm than they had been in 1953, when a similar flood claimed thousands of lives. But this time flood defences were much more effective, Jason Wakeford, an agency spokesman said.
The environment minister and the agency said 800,000 properties had been protected by flood defences but in Norfolk some owners were furious at the lack of government support to protect the rapidly eroding coastline.
There were delays and cancellations for rail passengers and problems for motorists caused by debris and flooded roads. In some areas, including Boston in Lincolnshire, schools were closed.
Only a dozen severe flood warnings remained in place in East Anglia and the south-east on Friday afternoon.