Biggest tidal surge in 60 years threatens UK, Europe


The scene where properties have fallen into the sea due to the cliff collapsing on December 6, 2013 in Hemsby, England. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes as a deadly winter storm and the highest tidal surge in 60 years hit east coast towns overnight, causing flooding and damage in many areas.


Stephen Pond

LONDON, UK — On Friday, Britain assessed the damage of a storm that killed two people, forced thousands from their homes and threatened the nation with the biggest tidal surge in 60 years before moving on to Europe.

Severe floods wreaked havoc on the UK’s east coast. Waves several stories high smashed against seaside barriers. In the seaside town of Hemsby, homes tumbled downhill and were carried away by the sea like children’s toys.

Winds killed one man in northern England and another in Scotland.

Despite the destruction, there was also a sense of cautious relief across Britain. Though 27 separate warnings of potentially deadly floods remained in place Friday morning, the UK’s system of flood barriers appeared to have prevented a more serious disaster.

The threat in the UK was not from rain but from the tidal surge — a flood caused when heavy winds and low pressure raise the sea’s surface and push it onto shore.

The Thames Barrier — an imposing system of metal gates that protects London from flooding — was closed Thursday night and again Friday morning to protect the capital from flooding. Other barrier defenses across the country were raised as well.

Though the storm surge was worse than the 1953 flood that killed thousands across the country, only two UK deaths were reported Friday morning.

Yet Storm Xaver continued to wreak havoc on continental Europe. Travel across Europe remains disrupted. More than 1,000 flights in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Hamburg, London and elsewhere were cancelled Thursday night in anticipation of the storm.

The Netherlands closed its flood barrier, the largest in the world, for the first time since 2007, in anticipation of tides 10 feet higher than usual. By Friday, normal rail service had resumed across the country, the BBC reported.

The storm killed three people in Poland and a woman in Denmark.

Gale-force winds battered Germany, disrupting rail travel and forcing the cancellation of several flights.

The German city of Hamburg flooded, bringing trade activity at its busy port to a halt. Residents on low-lying German islands in the North Sea were desperately laying out sandbags Thursday in an effort to save their homes.

“Nobody on the islands will be closing their eyes tonight,” Langeness resident Fiede Nissen told the Associted Press. “It's already tense.”