The 2013 storm surge: How East Anglia's worst night of destruction for 60 years unfolded

Several homes were lost to the sea at Hemsby in north Norfolk during the storm surge of December 2013.
The devastating effect of the storm surge which hit the east coast in December 2013 Credit: ITV News Anglia

For most people living in coastal East Anglia, the storm surge of 5 December 2013 will remain forever etched in their memories - as thousands were ordered from their homes, houses toppled into the sea, and damage estimated at £1bn was caused across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

Here, ITV News Anglia looks back at some of the defining images and memories of that night, and how the region's worst storm event for 60 years unfolded.

In the hours before the surge, the advice from the authorities was clear.

Some 36 severe flood warnings - the highest category - were issued across the region, as tensions rose at the prospect of a weather system which risked wreaking havoc along the coastline.

A devastating combination of high winds, low pressure and high tides were expected to pushing a 'bulge' of water down the North Sea, from Norfolk, to Suffolk, to Essex.

And despite their preparations, few will forget the impact.

Tides were two metres above their usual levels with disastrous results.

Several clifftop homes were washed out to sea, thousands were evacuated from their homes, hundreds displaced for months and the emergency services were stretched to their limits.

The repair bill ran to over £1bn.

A scene of devastation at Cromer Pier in Norfolk after the storm surge of December 2013 Credit: ITV News Anglia

The authorities were familiar with the difficulties facing the East Coast, as Charles Beardall from the Environment Agency explained at the time.

"East Anglia generally is just hugely challenged by these surge tides.

"We have very soft coasts: we have got 800 kilometres of sea defences around Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex - that's about half the sea defences in the whole country. It's just a huge challenge for us."

In the early evening of Thursday 5 December, north Norfolk was first in the firing line.

"It just like hit a sonic boom," was how one woman on Cromer Pier described the impact to ITV News Anglia.

"You could just hear this boom and the ground just vibrated under your feet. Things that were on the pier were being washed out towards the promenade."

Broken decking, beach debris, even someone's mobility scooter, were all washed towards the promenade as those watching on from above were given a demonstration of the storm surge's destructive power.

Six people were rescued from Cromer Pier after it was badly damaged in the storm surge of December 2013 Credit: ITV News Anglia

Six people had to be rescued from the pier when they became marooned during a fishing trip on the storm-battered jetty.

The boarding was ripped off, leaving gaping holes to the raging sea below.

Even large parts of the concrete sea wall were obliterated and together with benches and litter bins left strewn along the seafront.

Further east, in Hemsby, Robin Adams went to inspect what damage had been done to his wooden holiday shack.

He arrived to see its demise.

"Literally the sea lifted it all in one and folded it like paper and just took it out to sea," he told reporters.

"When I bought it, it was a risk, I knew it was a risk, so I'm not crying about it, but at the same time it's very sad."

  • ITV News Anglia's Malcolm Robertson reported on the drama of the night in 2013.

The unfolding of events had an eerie and familiar feel for those old enough to remember of 31 January 1953.

Over 300 lives were lost then and 24,000 properties were damaged. Subsequent surge scares, most notably in January 1978, February 1996 and November 2007 each re-shaped the coastal landscape - but thankfully with no loss to life.

In December 2013 the storm surge moved fast along the north Norfolk coast.

John Crook, who owned Standard House Chandlery in Wells-next-the-Sea, told ITV News Anglia about the impact on his business.

"It was quite something," he said. "We'd raised all our stock throughout the day, my wife and I, two foot off the ground and we thought that would be quite sufficient.

"It ended up 4ft 6ins deep. So we've virtually lost everything."

It was not just humans affected either.

The Sealife Sanctuary in Hunstanton flooded and power was lost, meaning 500 creatures had to be found temporary homes.

In Suffolk, the Harbour Inn at Southwold, reputedly the lowest-lying pub in the country, already had six inches of water inside before the peak surge.

By the end of the night the pub would be under five feet of flood water.

  • ITV News Anglia's Claire McGlasson reports on the impact of the surge in Suffolk.

The most easterly point in the UK was always likely to bear the brunt.

Lowestoft was hit hard with many parts of the town centre also under several feet of water on Thursday night. 

Some 158 residential and 233 commercial properties were flooded in the town and at nearby Oulton Broad.

The strain on infrastructure was severe.

A thousand homes in Suffolk and 1,200 in Essex had lost power by 9pm.

The A12 was closed at Blythburgh and Aldeburgh, while Great Yarmouth was effectively cut off for a while as the road and rail network succumbed to the rising waters.

In Woodbridge, the River Deben rose higher than six decades earlier, but lessons learned and improved defences limited the consequences.

  • ITV News Anglia's Luke Farrington reported from Essex

As the storm surge moved south, Essex was next in the firing line.

The whole of the village of Jaywick was evacuated - 61 streets in total - as a precautionary measure.

In Walton-on-the-Naze seafront beach huts were ripped apart.

The coastguard would later point out that despite that destruction, the impact could have been much worse had the storm surge arrived just 60 minutes later - and coincided with high tide.

"If the two had occurred at the same time they add their effects to each other," they added.

Even from a decade's distance, the power and impact of the storm has not been forgotten - and its anniversary has given fresh urgency to demands for sea defences up and down the vulnerable coast of East Anglia.

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