What a difference six months makes!
- Credit: Angela Sharpe
Through the night of December 5 last year, a wall of water surged down the North Sea pounding the Norfolk coast as it passed. A perfect storm of extra high tides, strong winds and low pressure combined to create some of the worst coastal flooding for 60 years.
Waves broke over promenades and sea-walls, poured through dunes and marshland, and ate into cliffs. Homes, businesses, beauty spots and nature reserves were inundated. In many places the water rose even higher than during the tragic tidal surge of 1953 which claimed 100 lives in Norfolk alone. This time, thanks to factors including improved flood defences, weather warnings, mass evacuations and the work of countless experts and community volunteers, no lives were lost. However, as the waters receded and stormy night skies gave way to daylight the damage was appalling.
Across the county, reporters and photographers with our sister newspaper the Eastern Daily Press brought news of the devastation through its papers and websites. Editor Nigel Pickover says it was immediately obvious that the EDP and its readers wanted to help as well as report.
“Serious damage reports came in by the minute. First in lovely King’s Lynn, then across our treasured nature reserves of the west and north Norfolk coats, on to the Cromer area, then Bacton, Walcott and Mundesley and on to Hemsby, Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The EDP appeal was launched within hours. Money poured in for victims and today it stands at £33,000. We are helping people to this day.”
The sea swamped the Cley Marshes, leaving the coast road at Salthouse splendid for swans. Now the water has drained away and drivers can once again soak up the beautiful views. Nature has also done a remarkable job of restoring the ponds and reedbeds which were inundated by the sea. The internationally important Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve is seeing its vital habitats recover, and the shingle bank, which was breached during the storm surge, has reformed.
In Cromer, giant waves crashed over the promenade and pier, splintering wood and shattering sea defences. As the tides and storm receded, daybreak revealed the shocking devastation. The seafront was strewn with the wreckage of beach-huts and businesses. Huge holes were punched through the floor of the pier.
Six months on it is hard to imagine this Cromer of sunlit calm is the same place. Months of hard graft have cleared, cleaned and renewed the seafront. The wide prom is swept clean and smooth, the pier is once again enticing visitors towards shimmering sea-views. Look closer and the evidence of the destruction is still there, in the gaping holes between rebuilt beach huts, in the stone-and-flint sea wall bridged by boarding - but shining over it all, bright as the summer sun, is the sense that our coastal communities are triumphing over that terrible December storm.
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All along the coast it was a similar story of disbelief and devastation, turning to communities rallying round for the clear-up and restoration.
In Mundesley it is almost impossible to believe the scene of bright beach huts and lapping wavelets is just six months on from waves crashing through the sea defences.
Mundesley will be alive with music from August 4 to 8 this summer as the 31st Mundesley Festival fills the village with bands, songs and shows. And all eyes will be on the coast on Saturday, August 23 when its National Coastwatch volunteers hold their first Family Fun Day on the Green alongside the Coastwatch Station. Coastwatch Mundesley has around 50 volunteer watchkeepers who keep a look out for anyone in trouble or distress along the coast.
In Walcott, water poured through seaside homes and cliff-top chalets collapsed. Under a summer sun the seafront is bright and breezy, but restoration work continues and some of the wounds of the winter storm will take a long time to heal.