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Tragic flood remembered 60 years on

The devastating east coast floods of 1953 are to be remembered 60 years on with a series of events.

Flood water level markings down the years on the outside of Boston Stump.

The major flood caused by a heavy storm occurred on the night of Saturday, January 31, and the morning of February 1, 1953. A combination of a high spring tide and a severe windstorm caused a storm tide. The tidal surge overwhelmed sea defences and caused extensive flooding. In England 307 people died  - 42 in Lincolnshire. Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex also had fatalities and 19 died in Scotland. But across the North Sea the Netherlands was hit the worst, recording 1,836 deaths.

Plans for the commemoration on Thursday, January 31, include memorial services, tolling of church bells, beacons being lit, the unveiling of a memorial stone and the blessing of the sea defences.

The focus for events will be at Mablethorpe, Ingoldmells and Skegness, which were the worst affected places. There was flooding in Boston borough, but no severe damage and no loss of life. In fact flood water markings on the Stump show that there was a more severe incident as recently as 1978.

But in 1953 Boston borough farmers came to the aid of colleagues further north when they accommodated livestock where grazing land was flooded. Camaraderie among the farming community ensured that those colleagues suffering as a result of the flood need not have extra anxieties around the security of their cattle.

Organisations which want to be involved in the 1953 commemoration, by holding their own services, lighting beacons or tolling church bells, should contact Steve Eason-Harris 01522 580322 for further details. A prepared sermon for the events is available for any other churches which want to become involved.

Church bells will toll on January 31 and beacons will be lit.

The first memorial service will take place at 2pm at Dunes Theatre, Mablethorpe, led by the Rev Peter Liley and the town council. A memorial stone will be unveiled at Mablethorpe  at 3pm, organised by Helen Parkhurst, a former Mayor of Mablethorpe.

Another service will take place at 4.30pm at St Peter and St Paul's Church, Ingoldmells, and the Bishop of Lincoln will bless the sea defences at Skegness at approximately 5:40 followed by a torch lit procession to St. Matthew's Church which will include the reading of the names of those from the area who perished in the flood.

The surge in 1953 raced down the East Coast into the southern North Sea, where it was exaggerated by the shallower waters along the Lincolnshire coast. Flooding reached as far as two miles inland.

In individual incidents 38 died at Felixstowe in Suffolk when wooden prefabricated homes in the West End area of the town were flooded. In Essex, Canvey Island was inundated with the loss of 58 lives and another 37 died when the seafront village of Jaywick near Clacton was flooded.

There were 1,200 different breaches of sea defences and 32,000 people had to be evacuated, 24,000 homes were flooded and 100 miles of roads were impassable. A total of 160,000 acres of agricultural land was inundated and not usable for several years and 46,000 head of livestock were lost.

Damage at 1953 prices was £50 million - more than £976 million at today's prices.

Flood defences have been improved since 1953 and although the likelihood of it happening is low, the effects could be far-reaching and severe which is why flooding remains the highest risk factor for many in the updated county Community Risk Register.

To help raise awareness of the importance of being prepared, Boston Borough Council, the Environment Agency and Lincolnshire County Council are jointly promoting a campaign to increase the number of households which have completed a flood plan and signed up to receive flood warnings.

Leader of Boston Borough Council, Cllr Peter Bedford, said: "Our coastline is now better protected than ever before, the Boston Barrier will represent a further substantial investment in our local defences and we work closely with our partners to ensure we have plans in place to cope if flooding does happen. But local residents and communities can take simple steps to help reduce the risk and that's what our campaign aims to achieve.

"We're keen to encourage people who are at risk of flooding to Make a Call and Make a Plan. Sign up to the Environment Agency's free warning service, Flood line Warnings Direct, to receive the earliest possible warning if flooding is predicted.  Complete a Flood Plan for your household so you know what to do in a flood-related emergency. Some towns and parishes have already created their own flood plans and for those who haven't we'd ask that this is given some serious consideration."

Local people and business owners can sign up to Floodline Warnings Direct by calling Floodline on 0845 988 1188 and complete their own personal flood plan for their household using the free template available from www.environment-agency.gov.uk

The template is also available from Boston Borough Council's online newspaper Boston Bulletin (October and November editions) - go to www.boston.gov.uk and download the PDF version.

Or you can pick up a flood plan template from the council's reception in Municipal Buildings in West Street, Boston.

A template for a community-based flood plan is available at www.lincolnshireprepared.co.uk - click on "How you can prepare for an emergency", at the bottom of the page is both a guidance document and blank template in PDF format for download. If your community has not already got a community plan encourage your parish council to get one started.

More flood and emergency information can also be found at www.lincolnshireprepared.co.uk