Storm surge caused chaos along coast

editorial image

On Wednesday the Environment Agency issued a warning for the entire east coast of England, but nobody expected such wide-spread devastation.

Tides of over six metres were predicted, but the water would peak at almost 8.5 metres, flooding large areas of Whitby and causing damage that will take months to clean up.

Flood damage at Sandsend

Flood damage at Sandsend

Sea water tore away Victorian railings from the town’s piers, tossed around the rock armour sea defences, and caused a huge black out which engulfed Whitby.

Repairs for the town centre have been estimated at over £218,000 by the borough council, while the cost of damage to businesses and homes will probably never be known.

Sandbags had been made available to some businesses, while other residents were told they had to purchase the bags themselves and fill them with sand from the beach, and so they were caught unprepared for the storm surge.

To add to the chaos, Whitby was thrust into darkness when two Norther Powergrid sub-stations shorted out after rising water got into the system.

Baxtergate was evacuated after a sub-station, located behind the New Quay Road public toilets, began to spark and smoke.

County councillor Joe Plant headed down to New Quay Road on the night and said: “I’ve never seen anything on this scale. There has been some bad events in the past, but with the sub-station going down at this time, leading up to Christmas, it’s bad for the town centre as a whole.”

Fire crews from around the region responded to the emergency and immediately began pumping flood water away from buildings, however New Quay Road was closed to the public due to fears the rising water could electrocute anyone who stepped in it.

The fire brigade was also on hand to extinguish a fire which started at the Tourist Information Centre, caused by mobility scooters short-circuiting.

Over 3,000 properties were affected by the blackout, which also knocked out street lamps and plunged the town into a darkness that for some properties would continue the following nights as Northern Powergrid attempted to repair and restore the system.

Work is still ongoing to repair the damage.

In Ruswarp, fire crews from Lythe and Robin Hood’s Bay were diverted away from the main incident to rescue a female motorist and her young son from rising water. Her vehicle had become stuck in the water and with levels rising at an alarming rate, firefighters used swift water rescue equipment and life jackets to take them to safety.

In Sandsend, Frazer Camfield was fighting to save his business.

The Tides owner said: “We had it pretty rough. The waves were breaking over the top of the front glass doors.

“When you were looking out the front and the wave hit, the building shook and the glass flexed. It was almost like you were underwater.”

Mr Camfield and four other Sandsend residents who rushed to help attempted to protect the building using sandbags, but the force of the water would just rip them away. In between waves they also swept water out of the cafe, but it still caused a huge amount of damage.

“If it had gone on any longer the doors would have gone through the glass,” added Mr Camfield. “I was thinking, this is bad.”

A large hole appeared in the A174 at Sandsend and the Sandsend Cafe also had a narrow escape when the banking beside it was washed away.

In Staithes, Railings on the sea wall were torn up and rock armour was tossed around by the waves, with storm force winds reaching 80mph.

Whitby and Staithes Coastguard teams were initially deployed to help in Sandsend, but then were redirected to Church Street, where they helped firefighters check on vulnerable residents.

Coastguard team member Rob Parkin said: “Everybody seemed to be bearing up with all the power cuts.

More than 100 calls were made to the police control room from people on the east coast, of which around half were flood-related

Whitby Hospital’s generators had to take over electrical supply and one patient needed an emergency transfer to Scarborough, at the same time as a fatal pedestrian collision was ongoing on the A171.

Superintendent Glyn Payne, Safer Neighbourhood Commander, co-ordinated the multi-agency emergency response and said: “It has been a tremendous effort by all the agencies involved in dealing with this significant incident. I pass on our gratitude to all of the team members who have strived to keep people safe from harm and to minimise the extent of damage and destruction cause by the tidal surge.”