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Sheppey cliff collapse: Mother-of-five tells of moment family had to flee home as ground beneath house fell away


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A mother-of-five has revealed how her family had just seconds to escape as the cliff beneath their home suddenly collapsed.

Emma Tullett could do nothing as the ground under her house in Eastchurch, Sheppey, crumbled into the sea below.

Emergency services were called again this morning as more of the cliff fell away. Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service
Emergency services were called again this morning as more of the cliff fell away. Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service

The family didn't have time to grab any of their possessions, and some even left without shoes on their feet. Her children Becky, 17, Owen, 15, Lexi, seven and Harry, six, managed to get out.

But despite this, Ms Tullett, 42, is keeping positive and even "had to have a little giggle" when she saw a photo of her car lying on the beach. Plus she has been overwhelmed by the support and kindness of local people.

The problems first started just a few days ago when cracks began to appear in the ground outside the front and back of Cliffhanger house in Surf Crescent.

Ms Tullett showed her neighbours, including Malcolm Newell, who suggested she poured water into the gaps to help the clay bind back together. But this didn't help.

They discussed the damage while stood on ground which now lies at the bottom of the cliff.

The mum-of-five is now living in temporary accommodation with her family. Picture: Emma Tullett
The mum-of-five is now living in temporary accommodation with her family. Picture: Emma Tullett

Despite the cracks continuing to grow, Ms Tullett was convinced there would be no sudden landslide, but possibly a gradual one over a long period of time.

However, on Friday evening, just a couple of hours after Ms Tullett returned from a shift as assistant manager at Minster's Co-op, things took a turn for the worse.

Her partner had already put the younger children, Lexi and Harry, in the back annex, which the two teenagers normally live in, to be on the safe side, earlier that day.

Ms Tullett was sat with her daughter watching Take That on the TV when she began hearing cracking noises.

"I don't usually notice that kind of stuff with a house full of kids, but I did hear cracking noises. And then the blinds fell down behind us and my partner yelled for us to get out," Ms Tullett said.

The Sheppey cliff collapse from the air this morning. Picture: RLH media
The Sheppey cliff collapse from the air this morning. Picture: RLH media

"By the time I'd grabbed my phone I looked out the window and the wall by the front door had completely gone.

"When we got outside, there were bricks all over the place.

"My daughter phoned 999 and the fire brigade came and made sure everyone was out and evacuated some of the other houses too."

Ms Tullett soon realised some of her children had been left with bare feet, amid the panic to get out.

"I'd stuck some coats on them but some of them didn't even have shoes on," she said.

The damage seen from the top of the cliff. Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service
The damage seen from the top of the cliff. Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service

"We have nothing left. They are mostly just material possessions but all the memories can't be replaced - we didn't have Facebook when I had my older children and we've lost all our photos and everything like that."

Neighbours looked after evacuated residents by making them tea and letting them use their toilets as they stood waiting in the street for further news.

"We couldn't see what was happening so had to rely on the emergency services coming back and forth to tell us," said Ms Tullett.

"We were taken to Minster Community Centre at about 4am."

The family were found temporary accommodation in Sittingbourne yesterday, but are now sure what's going to happen next.

This morning, another huge expanse of earth came away from the cliff, leaving the front of the house hanging in mid air and Ms Tullett's car on the beach.

The scale of the cliff collapse has been captured by drone Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service (35698424)
The scale of the cliff collapse has been captured by drone Picture: Kent Fire and Rescue Service (35698424)

"I had to have a little giggle when I saw the photo of my car on the beach - the whole drive away and everything had just stayed the same but dropped down onto the beach. My car was parked better than how I left it," said Ms Tullett.

"It's devastating but I'm just trying to be positive. It feels a bit like we're in a film though."

When they bought the house in 2018, the family were told it would last around 40 years before erosion made it too unsafe to live in.

"We used to get little cracks every now and again but it's more of a hill than a cliff, we never thought this would happen. I thought I would live in the house until I died or went into a nursing home," said Ms Tullett.

"It's not just us now though, other residents are at risk too."

Today, six households were being helped at an emergency centre set up by Swale Borough Council.

However, Ms Tullett thinks the council could have done more to save the homes.

"After this has happened, they've now said they're going to look at it - it has taken a young family to be without a house," she said.

Although it has been a very difficult time, the family have been overwhelmed by the support of the people of Sheppey.

"I just want to say a big thank you to the people of Sheppey who sometimes get a bad name but have come together to help when some of them don't even know me," said Ms Tullett.

"The lady who lives above the pet shop which had a fire last week even messaged me to ask if I wanted anything while she was in Morrisons and brought round some drinks. For someone to be able to do that is just so lovely."

A local woman, Joyce Temple-Savage has also started a GoFundMe page for the family, raising £359 so far.

"If lots of people donate we can share it with other families who have been affected, nothing will go to waste," said Ms Tullett.

Lastly, Ms Tullett is urging others who may live near a cliff to be wary of finding themselves in a similar situation.

She said: "You can replace most things but you may lose all your photos and memories - things you can't replace."

Read more: All the latest news from Sheppey

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