by John | Dec 27, 2012 |

The 1953 East Coast Flood

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On the night of Saturday 31st January 1953 the river walls of the Alde and Ore Estuary were breached by heavy seas and salt water poured through the ever growing gaps in the sea walls flooding farmland and low lying property indiscriminately. 

On this particular night there was a spring tide when high water is really high and, normally, low water extremely low, but that night was different. Earlier in the day storm force winds were reported in Scotland and as the day went on the storm increased. The first high tide of the day was well above mean but despite high winds there was little damage, but when the tide turned the water was unable to escape back down to the sea. By now the north westerly winds were such that they trapped the water in the estuaries and rivers and when the time for low tide was reached little water had escaped from the tidal rivers and estuaries back into the sea.

With masses of water trapped in these waterways, the tide changed once more and more water began to move up the estuaries and tidal rivers pushed on by storm force winds. By now it was night and as high tide was reached in estuary after estuary, down the Suffolk Coast the trapped water began to crash over break waters and over top sea and river defences. Water levels locally rose and rose reaching a height in the Orford and Aldeburgh area of more than 5.6 metres (18.4 ft) above mean sea level.

In 1953 rural communities were far more cut off than they are today; whilst many would have had radio, very few had TV and the majority would have had no phone in the house. Whilst the authorities were aware of the potential danger of the storm to families in low lying properties they had no way of warning them and many people in Suffolk were asleep at the time that the flood hit. Between sun down on 31st January and the morning of 1st February (according to Environment Agency figures) 300 people died in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. About 24,000 houses were destroyed and 40,000 people evacuated. Wildlife habitats were lost and farmland and animals destroyed.

The 1953 flood floods struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland - the Netherlands in particular suffered terrible damage.

It took many months to recover from the disaster but so many were affected that all were determined to learn lessons and now government agencies including the Environment Agency work with local businesses and communities to ensure that the dangers of flooding are recognized, areas of population defended and local communities and visitors to the area informed of any potential danger.

The Alde and Ore Association was set up to preserve and protect, for the public benefit, the Alde, Ore and Butley Creek rivers and their banks from Shingle Street to their tidal limits. 

The Alde and Ore Association has arranged a series of exhibitions and events starting on  February 1st 2013, to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1953 Flood - For details see our Events programme.


Spring Tide - an exceptionally high and low tide which occurs at the time of the new moon or the full moon when the sun, moon, and earth are approximately aligned.


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