Video: Looking back at the floods which devastated the Lincolnshire coast in 1953
DISASTER struck the Lincolnshire coast on January 31, 1953.
A high tide, lashed by a howling gale, smashed the sea defences along 68 miles of coastline and river bank.
The cold, turbulent waters burst over the countryside in a seething torrent and in some places penetrated for miles inland.
Forty-three people, including six young children, lost their lives – and the dawn of February 1 revealed a story of tragedy and chaos unparalleled in the history of the county.
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Nobody anticipated the catastrophe and few realised the enormity – even when it was already upon them.
So great was the havoc wrought in a single night that it is still difficult to comprehend the scale of the disaster, or the magnitude of the task of those who set about to repair the damage.
But facts and figures soon emerged and the story was gradually pieced together.
High tide along the Lincolnshire coast that eventful night was at 7pm.
But the North West gale had packed water into the North Sea and the waves smashed at the sea defences long before the tide reached its full height.
The first intimation of impending disaster came from Cleethorpes at 6.25pm.
Some flooding had occurred at the North end of the town. Then, 15 minutes later, news arrived, via Skegness, of fairly extensive flooding in Mablethorpe.
Then there was an ominous pause. Telephone lines went dead. But unknown to the rest of the county, the crisis had actually begun at tea-time.
The sea broke through at Sandilands at 5.30pm. An hour later it was flowing over Chapel Point across the Roman Bank and on to the Anderby Road.
A message from Ingoldmells at 6.44pm reported widespread flooding to a depth of seven feet.
At 7.10pm, the sea defences directly opposite Mablethorpe police station collapsed. Ten minutes later the town was inundated.
At Cleethorpes, the torrent smashed through the sea wall between Fuller Street and Suggitts Lane. The full force of the gale-driven waters rushed down Grimsby Road, which soon became impassable for hundreds of yards. Piers in Grimsby Dock were buffeted and smashed and at Immingham, the power station was flooded and the 1,078-ton Hebble turned over in the dock.
County police headquarters at Lincoln knew of the immensity of the disaster at 10.10pm when a message from a police car spoke of three fatalities at Saltfleet.
At 10.40am, the situation at Mablethorpe was reported to be desperate. Seven perished in that first swirl of icy water.
But at Ingoldmells, although this was not known until later, there was a major tragedy.
Sixteen people, including a whole family of three adults and three children, died as the cold water rose and submerged their homes.
More than 1,000 messages flashed through to the police information room before midnight. Then came the plea for the evacuation of Mablethorpe and Sutton.
The police sealed off the entire area and asked for rescue vehicles and boats. A request was also made for troops and amphibious craft.
Lorries, buses, ambulances and fire engines converged on the coast and, shortly before midnight, the first batches of evacuees streamed into Louth and Alford. During the 48 hours after the storm nearly 6,000 people were evacuated. Louth and Alford hospitals treated 180 for shock and exposure and a further 173 were admitted and detained.
The damage to property was immense.
Some 2,000 premises in Sutton and Mablethorpe were flooded and damaged. Eight were completely destroyed and about 25 were beyond repair. At Cleethorpes, 900 homes were flooded.
Sea water had flooded 24,000 acres of land in the county, including 17,000 acres of farmland.
RSPCA inspectors rescued 500 head of cattle, 12 horses, 75 pigs and 700 head of poultry plus 70 cats, dogs and other pets.
Inspector P Clarke, formerly of Waltham, milked 200 pain-maddened cows in the first three days of the flood.
A flock of sheep worth £1,000 was entirely lost by Mr W Stubbs, of Marshchapel.
Edna May Hodgkins, of Louth, arranged for the reception of hundreds of pets and took 35 cats into her own home.
British Red Cross and WVS representatives distributed food parcels to 1,540 people living on the coast. Of the £4 million raised by the Lord Mayor of London's National Flood and Tempest Distress Fund nearly one-eighth went to Lincolnshire people.
Cleethorpes WVS sorted 78 van loads of donated furniture, and items distributed by them included 1,400 chairs, 350 tables, 320 beds, 1,300 cups and saucers and 4,000 plates.
Four-thousand workmen including lorry drivers were engaged from all parts of Britain and they were assisted by 2,000 troops.
Relief work was performed by 520 officers and men with 165 pumps and other appliances from fire brigades sent from throughout Lincolnshire and Midland and Northern brigades.
Throughout the entire operation, fire brigades used 46 miles of hose and 7,866 gallons of petrol.
It was a momentous occasion that history will never forget.
In tomorrow's Grimsby Telegraph – hear first-hand accounts of survivors.
Exhibition to mark catastrophic event
TO MARK the 60th anniversary, the Grimsby Telegraph is staging an exhibition of photographs and front pages from the archives.
The Telegraph was there to capture the disaster and the aftermath; the damage, the human interest stories and the heartache.
Through a series of articles and 100 photographs and front pages in the exhibition, we will remind readers of the tragic stories, such as the body of the six-month-old baby found buried in sand, to the tales of heroism and royal visits.
It starts on Friday, February 15, and runs until Monday, March 4, at the Discovery Centre, in Cleethorpes, during its opening hours.
The Telegraph's deputy editor, Michelle Hurst, said: "The 1953 floods was one of the biggest – if not the biggest – natural disaster to affect the east coast, so it was only fitting that we mark this anniversary by looking back at some of the poignant photographs and front pages produced by the Telegraph at the time.
"Not only will those who remember the event find the exhibition moving, it will also bring the event to new generations, who will no doubt find it compelling.
"The response to the last exhibition we staged at the Discovery Centre, about Cleethorpes past and present, was so positive that we feel sure this new display will prove just as popular."