Warnings saved lives, but nothing could stop the floodwater invading homes the night the flood waters hit Suffolk

Emergency flood plans are in place in Southwold before the surge that is due to start on the evening

Emergency flood plans are in place in Southwold before the surge that is due to start on the evening of Thursday 5th December. Nick Attfield, landlord of The Harbour in Southwold, has completely emptied the pub before the flood. - Credit: Archant

A year ago today Suffolk was waking up to the worst flooding for six decades. Richard Cornwell looks back at the events of the night of the tidal surge.

Tidal Surge around Suffolk's coast has caused major disruptions. Huge waves crash over sea defences

Tidal Surge around Suffolk's coast has caused major disruptions. Huge waves crash over sea defences in Southwold.

Devastating tidal surges are reckoned to be a once-in-200-year event.

The beautiful but vulnerable coastlines of Suffolk and Essex have now suffered two extreme storms in 60 years – and still bear the scars of last year’s flooding with some landscapes likely to take years to recover.

It is a year ago today that communities along the county’s coast were beginning the massive clean-up after waves smashed onto shores and powerful tides swept upriver for miles.

In Suffolk, 231 properties were flooded – 117 commercial buildings and 114 homes. Around 1,000 people were evacuated from their homes as the joint emergency plan for Suffolk swung into action.The big difference between 1953 and 2013 was that warnings of the predicted surge were given well in advance to enable people to be moved to safety, with 33 severe flood warnings in place in various locations.

That may have ensured no-one died – compared with more than 300 deaths back in 1953 – but it did not stop the havoc.

Communities from Lowestoft to Felixstowe saw flood damage, heartbreak and misery, with people powerless to stop the water invading their homes.

A combination of high tides, low pressure and gale-force winds created waves of around two metres higher than usual. Only the wind direction prevented a bigger disaster.

Motorists were advised to postpone their journeys in areas prone to localised flooding, and rail passengers faced cancellations and delays.

As high tide was reached at night-time, what many had feared became reality. At Southwold’s Harbour Inn, which is below sea level, parts of the building had up to 5ft of water inside.Owner Nick Attfield said: “We flooded quite considerably but as predicted. We had about 5ft of water in our bottom bar, about 4ft in the kitchen and 2ft behind the bar. It was a huge amount of water.

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“We have a plaque on the front of the pub which shows the height of the ’53 flood and we’re just a few inches below it. There was a lot of dirty, salty, smelly water but it is exactly what was expected.”

Lowestoft was the worst-hit town in the county with 158 properties flooded – with 30 suffering structural damage and the cost of repairs and lost business running into millions of pounds.

At Snape, the A1069 through the village was closed as the river over-topped and 24 homes and businesses were subjected to floods at least 3ft deep during the height of the surge.

The A12 at Blythburgh was also closed for some time as water swept across the road cutting off communities north and south.

At Waldringfield 14 homes were flooded and at Felixstowe Ferry 13 as the River Deben burst its banks.

Flooding hit Ipswich shortly before 12midnight as the River Orwell overtopped near the Waterfront and spectacularly blew manhole covers near the DanceEast building.

Stoke Bridge was closed to southbound traffic and crowds gathered to watch the rising waters. The Strand at Wherstead flooded and a man and his teenage daughter were rescued from the roof of their car after getting stuck in high water.

All the boats at Shotley Marina remained in place but water did flood the car park and floor of the Shipwreck pub and restaurant.

In Felixstowe, the town’s multi-million pound sea defences held firm though a 30-metre section of the promenade was damaged.

In Essex, more than 400 people in Jaywick were transported to the safety of a rest centre set up by Tendring District Council at Clacton County High School, while beach huts were damaged at Frinton, Brightlingsea and Walton.

Sea defences held up well and work has been taking place this year on a new £36million groynes scheme between Holland-on-Sea and Clacton.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said: “In the East of England, all the repairs have now been completed – we attended to 80 projects where the flood water had caused damage and the work cost around £10m.”