Experts say the tidal surge could be the most devastating since 1953, when 307 people died and 40,000 were left homeless
Britain was clobbered by the perfect storm last night – with hundreds of coastal towns hit by flooding.
Experts warned that yesterday’s 7ft tidal surge could be the most devastating since 1953, when 307 people died and 40,000 were left homeless.
Winds of up to 140mph were reported yesterday as 250 flood warnings were issued in England and Wales. And forecasters say there is more to come today. Environment Agency flood risk manager Philip Rothwell described the situation as “very dangerous indeed”.
He said: “We think the surge could be equal to if not worse than the one that brought such disaster 60 years ago.”
Thousands of homes were evacuated and many more were without power last night as the storm tide gradually swept south.
The surge follows a unique combination of events, coinciding with what was already due to be the highest tide of the month.
Driven by hurricane-force Arctic winds, the swell is being funnelled down into the narrowing waters of the North Sea and “bulging” up even more due to an area of low pressure sitting above it.
Police evacuated coastal towns and villages and warned others they should be prepared to leave their homes.
A 50-year-old lorry driver from Suffolk was killed and four other people were injured when his high-sided HGV was blown over onto cars on the A801 at Bathgate, West Lothian. Another man died when he was crushed by a 40ft tree in a park in Retford, Notts, as he rode his mobility scooter.
In northern England a number of rail services were either axed or delayed, including some on the East Coast main line and others across the Pennines.
Huge waves battered the sea front at Blackpool and Lytham, Lancs, and crashed 50ft over the sea wall at Whitehaven in Cumbria. Leeds-Bradford airport cancelled some flights. A plane diverted to Newcastle due to strong winds was struck by lightning as it landed.
And a flight to Glasgow was forced to abort two landing attempts before being diverted to Manchester.
All trains in Scotland were cancelled and drivers warned to stay off the roads.
Officials at the Port of Dover in Kent held a emergency meeting to assess the potential impact of the storm surge.
In Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, 9,000 properties were evacuated.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson chaired a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee to discuss the Government’s response to the storm.
A severe flood warning – the highest category, danger to life – was issued to businesses and homes near The Quay in Sandwich, Kent, for high tides between 12.45am and 1pm today. Tidal reaches of the River Trent, Notts, could also be affected.
On the west coast, severe gales, huge waves and high water levels are expected from Cumbria down to Cheshire.
People along the North Wales coast between eastern Anglesey and Liverpool were warned to prepare for flooding.
Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Coastal paths and promenades will be highly dangerous, there is an increased risk of people being swept out to sea.”
In Leeds, the city council shut the road past the 367ft Bridgewater Place tower – the tallest building in Yorkshire – following warnings of 75mph winds. It follows the death of a man who was hit by a lorry blown through the air in similar conditions in March 2011.
The Tyne in Newcastle and the Tees in Middlesbrough burst their banks and 300 homes were evacuated in Stockton-on-Tees.
Other areas at high risk include the North Sea coast from Northumberland down to the Thames Estuary and Kent, and tidal reaches of the Trent.
The Thames Barrier was closed last night to protect the capital
People in Anglesey and Liverpool were told to be prepared for flooding.
Two inshore lifeboats evacuated hundreds of residents from flooded bungalows in Rhyl, Denbighshire. where 300 homes were swamped.
Motorists had miracle escapes as 50mph winds battered Greater Manchester – damaging buildings and bringing travel chaos.
Two lorries overturned, a van was smashed by a falling 70ft tree in Longsight and another car was crushed by a tree in Chorlton.
A warehouse in Newton Heath suffered a partial collapse which also brought bricks raining down on a parked truck.
And several other buildings – including winter sports centre the Chill Factor and several shops on Deansgate were closed because of falling debris.
In one incident eye-witnesses watched a driver in Longsight walk away with just cuts and bruises when a giant tree toppled onto the bonnet of his van.
Nearby residents and firefighters said the man was lucky to be alive and the road was closed for several hours as the debris was cleared.
Kathleen McGuiness, 51, of Birchfields Road, said: “It’s a miracle he’s walked away from it. I think he should make sure he plays the lottery on Saturday.
“It landed right on his bonnet and made a massive bang. He was trapped inside and he had to kick through the windscreen to get out.”
Drivers also faced travel chaos as the M60 at Barton Bridge and the A56 near Ramsbottom were closed for several hours when lorries were toppled by the high winds.
The lorry driver in Ramsbottom suffered minor injuries and was taken to Fairfield Hospital in Bury as a precaution. No-one was injured on Barton Bridge.
Only South Wales, the South West and southern parts of England escaped the high winds yesterday.
The seafront at Scarborough was inundated, with arcades and cafes deluged and deckchairs floating along the promenade.
Mum Gill Smith, who fled with her young daughter, said: “We came down to see the sea and instead we got a
scene from Titanic.”
At Blakeney, north Norfolk, water breached the quay at 5.30pm and within half an hour the flood waters had engulfed the village’s main street.
Allan Urquhart used a rowing boat to collect a friend from the King’s Arms pub. He said: “It’s the worst flooding I’ve ever seen.”
Nearly 180 homes in Sandwich, Kent, were evacuated as they were threatened by tide surges at 11pm last night and again at 1pm today.
Further north, hundreds were forced to abandon their houses after the Humber burst its banks.
People in surrounding villages and dockland areas of Hull were warned to leave or move upstairs.
The Hessle foreshore was evacuated and many major roads were flooded by up to 5ft of water.
One local resident said: “People were just running to get away. Cars were almost covered – it was like a mini tsunami as the water struck.”
Humberside Assistant Chief Constable Stuart Donald said: “We are facing quite an extreme situation.”
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