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Three storms that rattled Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 18:01 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 16:00 15 February 2020

This was one lucky escape for householder Mildred Lockie when a tree fell in Beatrice Avenue, Felixstowe, during the St Jude storm of 2013   Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

This was one lucky escape for householder Mildred Lockie when a tree fell in Beatrice Avenue, Felixstowe, during the St Jude storm of 2013 Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Do you remember these violent weather events that battered us and flooded homes and businesses?

The seaside is often a peaceful place. In November 2007, at Southwold, the elements made their presence felt   Picture: SIMON PARKERThe seaside is often a peaceful place. In November 2007, at Southwold, the elements made their presence felt Picture: SIMON PARKER

The headline, "So close to a disaster", was succinct and spot-on. The accompanying photograph provided evidence. It showed Southwold Pier - waves and spray crashing around it.

This was on Friday, November 9, 2007, as a powerful storm surge battered the Suffolk coast and other parts of the UK.

That front-page headline wasn't over-egging it. Sea levels at Felixstowe (2.84m) and Great Yarmouth (2.8m) were the highest since the 3.28m tides of the 1953 North Sea floods. Then, more than 300 people in England died.

Barbara Young, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said in 2007 that the coast came "within a whisker" of disaster.

Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex had braced themselves for floods close to the scale of 1953, but the threat weakened after peak tides at about 8.30am fell 20cm below predicted levels.

Waves still came over sea defences and rivers were swollen, causing some towns to effectively shut down and people to evacuate their homes.

Southwold, Aldeburgh, Walberswick, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft bore the brunt as gale-force winds and a high tide combined. Felixstowe, Beccles, Bungay and Oulton Broad were also hit.

Almost like a scene from a disaster movie. This is the Nacton Road area of Ipswich in October, 2013   Picture: Toria WattsAlmost like a scene from a disaster movie. This is the Nacton Road area of Ipswich in October, 2013 Picture: Toria Watts

Luckily, conditions improved as the day wore on, with the A12 at Blythburgh the only major road still shut later in the day.

At the Harbour Inn in Southwold, landlord Colin Fraser, wife Katie and staff could not stop kitchens and bars flooding. Water was waist-high in the lowest bar. Nearby cottages were also flooded.

In Aldeburgh, a handwritten notice in the window of a closed hair salon informed callers "We have been told to leave".

Irene Luddington, then 83 and running a sweetshop, was the only evacuee at a local rest centre. Most other people who left threatened areas had gone to the homes of relatives or friends.

Blyth Estuary defences were breached at Walberswick, where the village car park was submerged and water came up to the doors of some houses, but the general verdict was of a lucky escape.

At Dunwich, Roger Collie said: "There is more water than I've ever seen, and I've been here 15 years."

There was a Dunkirk spirit at Orford as locals watched the waters rise towards defences built after the 1953 floods, but generally things held. Just.

December, 2013, on the aptly-named Ipswich Waterfront as the Orwell spills over and water comes up through manhole covers    Picture: ANDY ABBOTTDecember, 2013, on the aptly-named Ipswich Waterfront as the Orwell spills over and water comes up through manhole covers Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Ian Tickle, senior engineer at Orfordness transmitting station, said: "People who have lived in the village for 30 years or more haven't seen anything like this before."

October 2013: Storm St Jude

The UK was braced for the worst storm in years overnight on Sunday, October 27, 2013, and into the following morning - with heavy rain and hurricane-force winds forecast.

Nature delivered, with East Anglia hit by winds of up to about 80mph as the storm moved in from the west. It was at its fiercest between 7am and 8.30am on the Monday, bringing down trees and power lines. Thousands of homes across Suffolk and Essex were still without electricity by night-time.

Most rail services were cancelled and cars were damaged by falling trees. The Orwell Bridge outside Ipswich was shut and much of the town gridlocked for hours.

A double-decker bus overturned on the A1071 at Hadleigh when it was blown into a field, injuring passengers and trapping the driver.

Floodwaters recede by Bridge Road in Snape in December, 2013   Picture: GREGG BROWNFloodwaters recede by Bridge Road in Snape in December, 2013 Picture: GREGG BROWN

An Ipswich mum and her seven-year-old son were lucky to be alive after a tree crushed her Citroen in Belstead Road, Ipswich.

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Four people died: in Kent, Watford and London.

Wind speeds of 76mph were recorded in Suffolk - the UK's eighth-strongest - on the Monday. There was worse in Essex: a gust of 79mph at Andrewsfield, near Braintree, was the fourth-strongest. Harwich Harbour Authority measured gusts of 84mph.

In Felixstowe, 90-year-old Mildred Lockie awoke to find a tall tree, from the road outside her Beatrice Avenue home, had fallen and was now right up against her windows. A lucky escape.

The roof of the orangutan enclosure at Colchester Zoo was damaged. In Ipswich, wind tore external cladding from towering buildings at the Waterfront.

The storm was given the name St Jude. October 28 was the feast day of Roman Catholicism's patron saint of desperate situations and lost causes.

With parts of Aldeburgh threatened by rising water in November, 2007, Dawn Cross, Sandra Tyler and Pam Studd serve tea to Irene Luddington in the church hall   Picture: Phil MorleyWith parts of Aldeburgh threatened by rising water in November, 2007, Dawn Cross, Sandra Tyler and Pam Studd serve tea to Irene Luddington in the church hall Picture: Phil Morley

Storm surge: December 2013

We didn't have to wait long for the next major weather drama. "Storm surge brings chaos to our coast" screamed our headline.

Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, with a tidal surge predicted to be the worst in 60 years. It hit north Norfolk early on the evening of Thursday, December 5, and headed south through the night.

The Environment Agency issued 36 severe flood warnings for East Anglia - the highest category. It signified a threat to life.

The Harbour Inn at Southwold, reputedly the lowest-lying pub in Britain, was flooded again. There was already six inches of water in the kitchen more than three hours before "peak surge".

Nearly 100 people were evacuated from their homes in Southwold, with the town effectively cut off for about eight hours by rising water. A pavilion at the local rugby club and St Felix School became emergency refuges.

Wow. Southwold feels the force of nature in November,  2007   
Picture: Simon ParkerWow. Southwold feels the force of nature in November, 2007 Picture: Simon Parker

Brackenbury Leisure Centre in Felixstowe opened for folk having to leave their homes. In Essex, evacuees from Jaywick went to Clacton County High School.

There were also rest centres in Leiston, Beccles and Lowestoft. Large parts of Lowestoft town centre were under water on the Thursday night. Firefighters had to rescue about 20 people in St John's Road and other southern parts of town.

By 9pm, about 1,000 homes in Suffolk and 1,200 in Essex had lost electrical power.

By 11pm water was at the top of the beach at Aldeburgh and covered the quay at Orford. The A12 was again closed at Blythburgh.

The River Orwell burst its banks in Ipswich just before midnight, with manhole covers pushed out by the force of water. Roads around Stoke Bridge were closed and the area outside DanceEast awash.

Road and rail networks in north Suffolk and into Norfolk were paralysed, and Aldeburgh and Great Yarmouth were effectively cut off for a while.

On the Friday, in the cold light of day, experts reflected that although it was a tidal surge on a similar scale to the tragic east coast floods of 1953, the result was very different.

Pounded: Southwold promenade in 2013   Picture: EDWARD MUNNPounded: Southwold promenade in 2013 Picture: EDWARD MUNN

Thanks to improved defences and modern technology that allowed the threat to be identified and flagged early, precautions could be taken. That hadn't happened 60 years earlier.

While lives might not have been lost in December, 2013, properties in many towns and villages were damaged badly.

Southwold's Harbour Inn took five feet of water - the levels just a few inches below those recorded in 1953.

There was nothing salvageable from the ground floor of The Crown Inn at Snape. Volunteers turned out to help with the clean-up. Local farmers stepped in to look after the pub's pigs and sheep. Sadly, 38 turkeys had drowned.

In Woodbridge, the Deben rose higher than six decades earlier, but improved defences limited the consequences. Even so, the Waterfront Cafe suffered about £100,000 of damage, with water nearly reaching the till and oak floors having to be taken out.

Vulnerable Felixstowe Ferry was hit hard. Felixstowe Ferry Boat Yard's cafe lost nine deep-freezers and a new central heating system, plus workshop machinery.

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