Kent's great floods of 1953 remembered
How the "perfect storm"
hit Kent. Video by Nisha Chopra
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the disastrous 1953 east
It was said to be the worst natural disaster ever to hit the UK
- when more than 1,000 miles of coastline were struck by a huge
In total 307
people died, 24,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and more than
30,000 people were evacuated.
Exceptional weather conditions, coupled with poor
telecommunications and the fact that there was no single body
responsible for flood warnings, meant whole communities were
unaware of the looming flood threat.
Today, thousands of homes and business properties in England and
Wales are at risk from coastal flooding.
However, according to the Environment Agency, the risk of a
disaster on the scale of the 1953 floods has been significantly
reduced because of the billions of pounds spent on flood defence
and warning systems.
Extensive flooding took place all along the east coast of
England and in Holland - where the flood channels and sea defences
could not contain it.
One of its natural paths as far as England was concerned was the
Red Cross Aid during the
floods of 1953
Tidal predictions went by the board as the surge filled every
creek and inlet and overflowed into those areas lying below sea
Canvey Island, in Essex, where many people lost their lives, and
Whitstable were among the hardest hit, although Whitstable did not
suffer any fatalities.
Although the town had some sea defences in place, and plans to
extend them, they were not of sufficient height or strength to deal
with one of the highest tides for many years.
Water polo would have
been a more appropriate sport at Gravesend's Northfleet Football
ground. pic dated 1953
Waves not only topped the wall in some areas, but also smashed
their way through it.
People living in the middle of the town woke to the sound of
water rushing into their homes.
Some tried to stem the flow by blocking doors only to find it
creeping through air bricks.
Others, realising there was little they could do, moved what
they could to upper storeys and stoically went back to bed.
It was not until dawn that they realised they were in a disaster
The interiors of shops in the High Street and part of Oxford
Street were flooded to a depth of several feet. Bakers could not
light their ovens to supply bread, and milk deliveries were
Many homes were without electricity and it was not until later
that coal merchants could start delivering the fuel desperately
needed for warmth and drying carpets and furniture.
Cars left outside
Whitstable Golf Club were nearly submerged by the rush of
Ironically this was brought into the town by the Canterbury and
Whitstable rail link which had been declared uneconomic and closed
a few weeks earlier.
Island Wall, Waterloo Road and Cornwallis Circle were among the
worst affected areas with many people, especially the elderly and
disabled, trapped in their bedrooms.
A fleet of rowing boats was organised to rescue them and take
them to safety with amphibious DUKW vehicles known as ducks crewed
by American servicemen from Manston joining in the operations.
Cats were gathered up and kept in a safe place until they could
be reunited with their owners. Other animals were not so
A woman is rescued from
an upstairs room at Island Walk, Whitstable
Cattle and sheep grazing on the marshes between Faversham Road,
Seasalter, and the embankment carrying the main line to London,
Many were saved and taken to high ground, but a number were
overcome by the water and died as a result.
visits Gravesend a week after the worst floods in living
memory brought havoc to Kent
The water in Whitstable town centre started to recede on the
Sunday. Fire brigades from Kent and London were joined by service
men and women drafted in for the clear-up.
They worked day and night but it was weeks before the water was
pumped away from the worst affected areas leaving families to cope
with the residue of mud, shingle and the long term effects of the
salt on buildings.
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