Warning comes on 60th anniversary of worst coastal flooding in living memory.
On the 60th anniversary of the 1953 East Coast Floods, one of Britain’s worst natural disasters, the Environment Agency is warning the 1.3 million people at risk of coastal flooding in England and Wales to be prepared for coastal floods in the future.
One in 25 homes at risk of coastal flooding
One in 25 homes in England and Wales is at risk of coastal flooding, and this is expected to increase with a changing climate and rising sea levels. People living and working on the coast need to know their flood risk and sign up to free flood warnings, the Environment Agency said today.
The flooding in 1953 was caused by a combination of a high spring tide, a very deep atmospheric low pressure system that raised sea levels and exceptionally strong northerly gales which drove a surge of sea water down the coast and over coastal defences. Over 30,000 people were evacuated and 24,500 houses were damaged as the tidal surge inundated coastal communities from Spurn Point to Kent; 307 people were also tragically killed. Outside the towns and villages, thousands of animals were drowned and great tracts of farmland were made infertile for a number of years by salt water.
The floods were the catalyst for major flood risk management investment, notably the Thames Barrier and Thames estuary schemes which protect 1.2 million people. Other schemes completed since 1953 include Jaywick protecting 2,600 properties, a £6million scheme at Canvey Island, and a beach replenishment programme to bolster 20km of flood defences along the Lincolnshire coast, protecting over 23,000 homes. These are just a few examples of the major rebuilds and maintenance work on flood defences that has been undertaken in the decades after 1953. This means that coastal properties are now far better protected. In the last ten years alone over £250 million has been spent on coastal defences in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
- Watch archive footage of the 1953 floods
Huge flood warning developments since 1953
There have also been massive improvements in flood forecasting and warning services since 1953. The UK Coastal Monitoring and Forecasting service uses tide, wave and weather data to ensure the public, businesses and emergency responders are prepared. 1.2 million people, including 650,000 in coastal areas, are signed up to the Environment Agency’s automated flood warning service enabling people at risk to take prompt action. Over 50,000 people also get flood updates by following the Environment Agency on Twitter. In 2009 a dedicated flood forecasting centre was established to provide 24/7 guidance to emergency responders and local authorities ensuring they can be ready to help local communities.
Flooding can never be prevented entirely and there are now, unlike 1953, clear arrangements in place to ensure the emergency and public services work together to ensure people are informed and helped and if necessary on rare occasions evacuated to safety.
But despite these major improvements, the risk of coastal flooding cannot be underestimated.
Sign up to free flood warnings
Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of Environment Agency said: 'The 60th anniversary of the East Coast Floods is a reminder of the devastation that flooding can cause to people’s lives and property.
'Since 1953 huge improvements have been made in flood forecasting and prevention. But 1.3 million people are at risk of coastal flooding in England and Wales, and this is set to increase with a changing climate and rising sea levels. The extra protection and reassurance flood defences give to many communities should not be under-estimated but nor should the reality that tidal surges along the coast still happen regularly. We cannot afford to be complacent and the experiences in the United States during Superstorm Sandy should make us pause and reflect on the destructive power of a major coastal surge.
'We would urge anyone living or working along the coast to find out if they are at risk of coastal flooding and sign up to the Environment Agency’s free flood warnings.'
Environment Minister, Richard Benyon said: 'The floods of 1953 saw the terrible loss of over three hundred lives and devastating damage to thousands of homes. The tragedy was made all the worse by the fact that no flood warning system was in place. Today, people have a much better chance to protect their lives, loved ones and possessions and stay safe by signing up for the Environment Agency flood warnings.
'While the risk of extreme weather has never gone away, the country is better prepared than ever before to respond to major flooding and I thank the emergency services and Environment Agency for their hard work during the recent floods. We are doing all we can to protect homes and businesses from flooding, and expect to exceed our target to protect a further 145,000 properties in the four years to 2015.'
Thursday’s commemorations include a service of commemoration at Chelmsford Cathedral attended by members of the public, local dignitaries, senior government ministers and Lord Chris Smith, Chairman of the Environment Agency. Bells will also be rung from churches across the Lincolnshire coast from 5.30pm.
1953 Floods - watch, read, discuss
Here are a few ways to find out more about the 1953 floods, and how to prepare for flooding in the future:
The @EnvAgency Twitter account will also be tweeting live from the East Coast Flood Group Conference
Facts and figures on coastal flooding
- In the last ten years alone over £250 million has been spent on coastal defences in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and EssexEvery £1 spent protecting people from flooding saves £8 in clean up costs.
- Over 1.2 million people are signed up to receive flood warnings, giving them vital time to prepare. In 1953 there was no flood warning system.
- In the last 10 years over £250 million has been spent on coastal defences in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. This coupled with the major rebuild and improvement of defences in the decades after 1953 means that the vast majority of defences protecting properties should withstand a similar event.
- Where there was major loss of life in 1953 there have been major capital schemes completed - for example Canvey Island, Jaywick, Felixstowe, Lincolnshire, Kings Lynn and Gt Yarmouth.
- Canvey Island defences completed in the early 1980s with £6 million refurbishment in 2006. Standard of protection in excess of 1:1000 - some of the best defences in the country. A 1953 event would be over 1 metre below the crest of the defences.
- Jaywick coastal defences - This £10 million scheme has ensured protection of 2,600 properties and many more people.
- In Lincolnshire, the flood defences between Saltfleet and Gibraltar Point protect over 23,000 residential properties. Following serious damage to the hard defences along this frontage in the 1970s and significant beach erosion in the 1980s, a beach nourishment scheme along a 20km frontage commenced in 1994 – called Lincshore Scheme. This has continued every year. The typical annual spend is £7m a year.