‘We live in constant danger’: Anniversary of 1953 floods which claimed 43 lives looms

Floods along the east coast in January 1953. ANL-180801-112056001
Floods along the east coast in January 1953. ANL-180801-112056001

“The sea was coming down the lane.

“My sister managed to get out of the front door and made for the bridge that was across the dyke on the front of the properties.

The military arriving in Skegness in following fears of a storm surge in January last year. ANL-180801-112127001

The military arriving in Skegness in following fears of a storm surge in January last year. ANL-180801-112127001

“Unfortunately, she missed the bridge and fell in the dyke. She scrambled out to the pavement making her way up to my mother’s.

“It wasn’t until 2am that I knew she was safe.”

Franklin Whaler of Anderby was in the Royal Navy when he returned home on a Friday night in 1953 only to be faced by the worse peace-time disaster the east coast of Britain had seen.

It was just after dusk on January 31 that the first waves crashed through the sea defences in Mablethorpe and Sutton on Sea.

Floods in Skegness in 1953. ANL-180801-111402001

Floods in Skegness in 1953. ANL-180801-111402001

Within an hour virtually the whole town, including the high street, lay underwater.

The Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea and Skegness areas were the most seriously affected parts of the east coast and 43 people lost their lives.

Now, 65 years on, it is still feared that it is only a matter of time before the coast will see a repeat of the disaster.

Skegness Flood Warden Coun Malcolm Gabbitas said: “We live in constant danger.

Floods breaches-in-the-sea-wall-Mablethorpe in 1953. ANL-180801-112117001

Floods breaches-in-the-sea-wall-Mablethorpe in 1953. ANL-180801-112117001

“No lives were lost in Skegness in 1953 but the sea breached the defences and flooded the town past the Clock Tower and beyond the railway station.

“It isn’t a matter of if these conditions will be repeated, but when.”

Ironically, Coun Gabbitas said the 65th anniversary will see similar tides to that fateful day.

He said: “In 1953 there was a full moon, 26ft big spring tide and a storm surge of three to four meters which took it 36-38 feet.

Breaches-in-the-sea-wall-Mablethorpe in January 1953. ANL-180801-112107001

Breaches-in-the-sea-wall-Mablethorpe in January 1953. ANL-180801-112107001

“There will also be a full moon this month on January 31st at the next big spring tide of 7.2 to 7.4 metes.

“All it takes is a storm surge with winds coming in from the north.

“But we don’t know about the winds yet.”

In an effort to prevent a repeat of the 1953 disaster, the Environment Agency (EA) is about to start a consultation on flood defences, an investment expected to cost millions of pounds.

The EA’s commitment to the coast near Skegness was evident a year ago on January 13 when troops were brought in to evacuate residents following fears a storm surge coupled with a big spring tide could breach the sea defences.

Around 100 soldiers from the Catterick Army base were deployed to the east coast, where about 3,000 residents were advised to leave their homes or move upstairs.

The Skegness Standard joined them as they knocked on doors in Winthorpe, warning residents to be ready to take action if they were revisited during the night.

Kiosks near the RNLI station in Skegness also put up their flood boards, a £30,000 investment paid for by the Government in 2013 - the last time the sea breached
 the flood defences in the resort.

However, last year the Skegness area coast escaped with just a high tide driven up the beach. Coun Gabbitas said: “Some said the operation was a waste of money or a big publicity stunt for the Environment Agency, but they were completely correct to take this action.

“If the storm surge had come, we were prepared.”

Residents along the east coast are now being urged to help the Environment Agency manage the flood risk over the next 100 years.

A spokesman for the Envirmonment Agency said: “We are reviewing how we will manage flood risk on the Lincolnshire coast between Saltfleet and Gibraltar Point over the next 100 years.

“We have worked with our partners and stakeholders to help us produce a shortlist of six options for coastal flood risk management along this stretch of coast.

“We are taking these options to a six-week public consultation from February 5, 2018.”

Members of the public can submit their views by filling in a consultation form at one of our consultation events, details of these to be released early January, or by visiting https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/flood-and-coastal-risk-management/sgp/