England: 1953 Northsea Floods

Figure 1.--This image shows the Canvey Life Boys, probably in the 1930s. Groups like this helped with life boats all along the English coast. We do not know how they preformed in 1953. Canvey Island, however, was devasated by the 1953 floods.

Massive Northsea floods devesrated the coat of East Anglia in 1953. The flooding occurred on January 31. As it moved southwards down the English coast, each town along the coast was flooded. The testruction was enormous. Many families were devestated. The Netherlands was even more seriosly impacted because part of the country is below sea level. It was the Dutch warning system at abou 10:00 am that first issued warning of "rather high tides". This warning was apparently not coordinated with U.K. agencies.

English Floods

January 31

The Dunstable Met Office at about 11:30 am issued warning of "exceptionally strong winds". No flood warning was issued, however, and there was no nationwide system not in place to evaluate at act on such warnings. Meterologists reported at about 12:00 noon that the centre of a storm east of Scotland had pressure drops as low as 966 millibars, 45 below the ‘norm’ of 1009. The British Rail ferry "Princess Victoria" abandoned ship at about 1:45 pm east of Belfast, with the loss of 133 of its 176 passengers. Waves over 6 meters (m) high at 5:00 pm "tear at sea walls of Lincolnshire". There were 50 kilometers (km) of defences destroyed and 41 people drowned. The flood waters at about 6:00 pm breached defenses at Saltfleet, Mablethorpe and Sutton in Lincolnshire, and Wells, Salthouse and Cley in Norfolk. High Tide at King’s Lynn were at 6:15 pm at 2.5m above expected level. 15 drowned. There are 66 people drowned as defences were breached at 6:20 pm in Heacham and Snettisham, Norfolk. The Hunstanton to King’s Lynn train collided at 7:27 pm with a floating bungalow. Force 12 (hurricane) winds recorded at Felixstowe at 8:00 pm. The flood waters at 8:30 pm force residents of Sea Palling to take to their rooftops and 7 drowned. The floodwater entered the streets of Great Yarmouth at 9:00 pm and 10 drowned. The Lincolnshire Police issue statement at 10:00 pm, "so far no casualties and situation in hand".

February 1

There werw 8 drowned when at about 12 midnight a 2 m wave inundates old town area of Harwich, Essex. Flooding occurs at Canvey Island, Essex beginning at about 12:30 am on February 1. Over 11,500 peope weere made homeless and 58 drowned. The seawall at Felixstowe, Suffolk, gives way at 1:00 am. Felixstowe residents are forced to their rooftops and 40 were drowned. Residents of Jaywick, Essex, are forced to their rooftops about 1:45 am and are not rescued until 31 hours later after 37 drowned. Industrial installations all along the Thames estuary are by 2:00 am flooded. About 3,000 people in West Ham, east London, are marooned in their bedrooms.

Dutch Floods

A Dutch reader tells us, "Today is special to most Dutchmen: On February 1, 1953, spring tide and storm winds sweeping the North Sea combined to produce one of the biggest disasters ever in Holland and Flanders. The resulting floods were the largest since the infamous All Saints’ Flood of 1570 and hit the Scheldt, Maas and Rhine river delta in the southwestern part of the Netherlands and adjoining areas in the Belgian provinces of East-Flanders and Antwerp. In the Netherlands 1835 people died, some twenty thousand cattle drowned, 4,500 houses were completely destroyed, 200,000 acres of farmland were flooded. For days on end, people sat in treetops and attics, often without food and sparsely clothed, while the storm raged and the swirling watrers carried drowned bodies, livestock and furniture out to the North Sea. More than 40,000 houses became uninhabitable and 72,000 people had to be evacuated."


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Created: July 29, 2000
Last updated: February 1, 2003