The Environment Agency and Met Office issued severe weather storm warnings Thursday for parts of the UK. People were literally warned to batten down the hatches ahead of high winds and a tidal surge. Once the storm surge passed, there was an audible sigh of relief, up to that point, worry captured the nation.
Severe storm winds swept the northern area of the country and Scotland was hit first.
Winds with speeds of up to 140 m.p.h. were recorded and in West Lothian, Scotland, one man, a lorry driver, died when his vehicle was blown over, landing on nearby cars. Television news showed images and footage of chaotic scenes, with some injuries sustained when the fierce wind blew people completely off their feet. Hospital emergency departments experienced a busy day.
Early in the afternoon another man died as he rode his mobility scooter through a park, in Retford, Nottinghamshire. A falling tree struck the man, who was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
By now power lines were down in parts of Scotland and many homes were without electricity in freezing cold temperatures. Travel disruption quickly spread from Scotland to other parts of the UK with most major train lines either closing or announcing delays.
Locally, in Kingston-upon-Hull, situated on the north bank of the River Humber, part of a building collapsed in the Stoneferry area of the city. Severe winds brought down a wall of the building which then smashed into two cars. Luckily there were no injuries.
As the winds moved south the biggest cause for concern was the predicted tidal surge, expected to hit the east coast of England in the evening.
60 years ago a fatal tidal surge ravaged the same area of England but at least this time there were warnings, evacuations and recent tidal barriers which were rapidly put into action.
Friday, saw cleaning underway in some parts of the UK but for others the nightmare is not over just yet.
The Environment Agency warned Friday morning that it still had 25 severe flood warnings in place. Channel 4 News reported the government’s Cobra emergency committee met Friday.
UK Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, warned: “There will still be exceptionally high tides today and tomorrow and I would ask everybody to pay very close attention to advice from the Environment Agency and also to follow instructions from the police, local government and the emergency services.”
Tidal surges can occur when extreme winds blast seas and Brits know all too well they can result in death.
On the night of January 31, 1953, a combination of a high spring tide and gale force winds, caused by a severe atmospheric depression, led to the east coast of the UK taking a battering from the North.
As flood defenses broke, freezing cold sea water rushed up to two miles inland, in low-lying counties such as Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. The water level was so high that residents close to the coast fled to the roofs of their homes to await rescue by emergency workers.
307 people in England died as a result of the tidal surge. In Scotland a further nineteen people died, while in the Netherlands the death toll reached 1,800, but that was not all. As the Daily Telegraph reports “More than 177 people were lost at sea in fishing boats and more than 130 perished on the Irish Channel ferry, Princess Victoria”.
Thursday the people of the UK were much luckier than the flood victims of 1953, but it may not feel like that if you are a flood victim.
In England it was the same low-lying areas which were quickly flooded. Sea levels were higher than in 1953 but measures in place, including tidal barriers, to protect against flooding eased the situation.
In fact they worked, and people in the affected areas must surely be thankful they did.
Insurers will be counting the cost for weeks to come though, which means some householders could face a miserable Christmas as renovation and restoration work begins. For now UK is breathing a sigh of relief as the storm surge passes and a grim clean-up begins.
By Eileen Kersey