Student Information
18th Jan 2012Posted in: Student Information Comments Off on Flooding

Sixty years have now passed since the East coast of Britain and Northern Europe were devastated by the worst floods in living memory. In the UK, over three hundred people were drowned. Thousands more were left homeless. Nearly 100,000 hectares of Eastern England were flooded as coastal defences were inundated all the way from Lincolnshire to Kent, including parts of London.

The situation in northern Europe was worse still with a death toll in the Netherlands of around 1,800 people.

On England’s east coast, over 30,000 people had to be evacuated from flooded homes, some of which were simply washed away. Businesses, factories and farms were destroyed. Roads and railways were washed away, power stations were shut down and communication lines cut. Tens of thousands of livestock were lost. The damage is estimated to have cost around £50million (1953 prices). A similar scenario today would result in losses running into many billions.

But the North Sea Floods of the 31st January and 1st February 1953 were not the first to cause widespread destruction and death in the UK and Northern Europe.

In the early 13th century some 100,000 people were killed in Holland as the sea swept over sea defences and destroyed several villages. Serious flooding which leads to significant loss of life and property are also recorded throughout the last 1000 years with the 13th and 14th centuries particular noted for sea flooding in the southeast of England, (Bowler, 1975).

More recently, severe storms hit the east coast of Britain in 1897, 1906, 1928, 1949 (below top) and in 1978 (below bottom). As a result of all these storms there was widespread damage to the coastal towns and flood basin.  The images below show Herne Bay and Whitstable respectively.1978_01 Herne Bay storm damage 2

1949 Marine Terrace & Neptune P.H. during storm

More people than ever before live in the coastal floodplains and providing accurate and timely warnings to all these people is a major task. It is certain that extreme storms such as those described above will occur again and flooding to some degree is likely.  However, sea defences in the UK were improved following the floods of 1953 and have in many cases been raised further in recent years to take account of sea level rise and isostatic adjustments. The level of protection varies with the greatest levels of defence against flooding to be found in urban areas. In addition, there is a much improved flood warning system in place to alert people at risk to the dangers of a major storm. 

Local Authorities and the Environment Agency are constantly monitoring their sections of coast and their coastal defences to ensure we are best prepared for the inevitable – another storm.

Useful Links


Environment Agency

“Regional Flood Risk Appraisal for South East England. Summary. November 2008”  Halcrow.

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