Sunday, September 10, 2017

Surges, past and present

Servicemen repairing the breached sea wall at Canvey Island
As Hurricane Irma approached Florida, a defiant resident told a BBC News reporter that she would ignore warnings to evacuate her home and laughed. A fifteen foot storm surge wasn't going to drive her out. I wonder if she'll survive?

It reminded me of the 1953 storm surge along the east coast of England. I was only nine and lived on the opposite side of the country, on the banks of the River Mersey, so I didn't remember anything about it. It wasn't until I became a humanist celebrant, and interviewed people who'd lived through it, that I realised the damage it did.

I visited a woman in Essex who'd lost her husband. In 1953 his parents had a small general store at St Osyth and he lived away from home, further north. In those pre-digital days, there wasn't much in the way of early warnings. The couple heard a storm was on the way but, thinking they had plenty of time, they started moving their valuable stock onto the highest shelves to save it from the water. The son tried to phone them to tell them to get out, but they didn't answer. When he finally arrived the next day, he found them both floating face-down in floodwater. After his funeral, when I'd told this story, one of his former colleagues in the Rank organisation said that it explained why he'd never joined swimming parties with his workmates. He was terrified of drowning.

The water rose over eighteen feet in 1953. Hundreds of people and thousands of animals died. We may have another surge, though there are no hurricanes here, but the emergency services will be ready. Ignoring their advice when it's time to evacuate will not only risk your own life, but theirs too.

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