March 9 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
David Cameron and his team swooped on Wells, one of Norfolk’s many flood-blighted communities – and I enjoyed meeting Number One and all.
But, Mr Prime Minister, you’ll excuse me for saying there were more important people for me to say “hello” to on a sunlit and peaceful day in Norfolk’s midwinter.
Let’s start with the outstanding crew of the Wells RNLI station – what a bunch of incredible men, the likes of whom I have never encountered before.
Coxswain Allen Frary and his team of 15 know all about “true grit” after events of recent days – and I salute them here and now.
All across north Norfolk I bumped into people engaged in the county’s great fightback, propelled by a spirit I have rarely witnessed in my four decades in journalism.
Diggers chugged, police teams patrolled and environmental health officers rooted around – everyone wanted to help.
While the situation was bad from atop the north Norfolk coast and along to communities down our great county’s eastern flank, nothing prepared me for the scenes at Walcott.
As I reached this battered community, with road blocks and tons of sand strewn everywhere, I saw piles of debris hundreds of yards inland.
Homes were wrecked – lives could have so easily been lost here.
The pounding sea had driven a hammer blow – and had forced its way into farmland, breaking houses and mobile homes in its path.
But nothing, not torrent, nor wind, has had even a remote chance of breaking the spirit here.
At the Poacher’s Pocket pub food was being served – and clothes were being handed in. I felt somehow feeble for handing in the scarves and jumpers my wife had given me at dawn.
I had the need to do so much more. I will do so much more.
Next, I met Arthur Edmunds, 91, of Horning, who had come to inspect his wrecked holiday bungalow.
“If she’s gone, she’s gone – we’ve had 50 great years here – I’m here to see if anyone, like me, isn’t at all worried by this; what will be, will be,” he said.
She had gone – the last summer holidays have taken place in his bungalow – Sea View comes without walls and windows now.
But there are real worries about the future and that’s where those helping hands – and that driving spirit – come into play.
As our prime minister was at Westminster and, later, soaring into the skies on the way south to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa, I loved meeting a remarkable group of people.
When the storm surge struck – and life-saving evacuations were ordered by Norfolk’s emergency gold command – heroes emerged at every turn.
Let’s hear it for Steve Bullimore, landlord of the Lighthouse Inn, Walcott, handily just a few dozen feet above the raging seas.
Steve opened his pub as a reception centre – and on that bleak night, last Thursday into Friday, took in 100 locals who stayed up talking to each other or playing dominoes.
Earlier in the day I told the prime minister that we shouldn’t ever, ever, forget Walcott – and he agreed with my sentiment.
I will make it my priority for him to return in spring – when daffodils will have risen and better days are in the offing.
North Norfolk Dictrict Council (NNDC), a year on from another devastating incident involving the council leader and his wife, rose to the challenge impeccably.
Stand tall Richard Cook, civil contingencies manager, for outstanding service to your community – with another salute for councillor Angie Fitch-Tillett, NNDC cabinet member for the coast.
And not forgetting council leader Tom FitzPatrick who has conducted himself brilliantly, working day and night since the drama – and chief executive Sheila Oxtoby, who has been a tour de force.
When those high seas swept down from the north, crippling east coast communities one by one, when the crisis came to Norfolk, this pocket-sized council showed its BIG credentials.
And so, back to Wells, wonderful Wells, where a seal popped up to say “help” as I waited for our VIP visitor.
I wanted to mention the spirit that I found throughout a very special day.
I felt it so strongly at Walcott – but also at Wells, where 15 good RNLI crewmen and true didn’t hang around when those incredible waves pounded in.
To a man they raced to their station. To a man they faced the gale – staring the ferment in the face and not blinking for a second.
Even more than that – when the waves that made national television swept in – they opened their doors – not wanting Neptune to rip off their doors and damage their life-saving boat.
I’ve made friends with Allen and Co – strong men who love the RNLI to their cores, proud Norfolk men who distinguish life in this sceptered county.
This was a day when Norfolk men and Norfolk women stood tall and everyone shouted in unison – we’ll not be beaten.
Today, as thousands of pounds are rolling in to an EDP appeal started by MPs Norman Lamb, Brandon Lewis and I, in conjunction with North Norfolk District Council, we hope we’re playing our part.
Today we salute the great people of this region, including those whose lives have been blighted in Lowestoft.
We’re with you in the long term – our appeal committee meets tonight when I’ll be back in Cromer.
This special place already is fighting back – and will forever be in our hearts.