One month on from the Norfolk and Suffolk floods - how the victims are coping
06:30 06 January 2014
Archant Norfolk 2013
A month on from the December 5 floods and people are still finding their feet again after the devastating tidal surge. Here, we catch up with some of the victims.
Jane Knapp’s picturesque beachfront bungalow was among the Walcott homes that took the heaviest beating in December’s storm surge.
Sitting just metres from the sea wall her home of more than 30 years was ripped apart by the raging waves.
And a month on, the wreckage inflicted by the water remains in place as the mum-of-two now begins on the long road to rebuilding her home.
Her plot was contaminated by oil, which seeped from her tank after it was ripped up by the storm, meaning clean up work could not start until specialist equipment was in place.
Mrs Knapp, who is now living in temporary accommodation in Colby, said: “They haven’t done anything on my house at all, mainly because they couldn’t start the clean up because of the oil contamination.
“When I come back and it looks virtually the same it’s quite depressing. They’re now starting to do an inventory and the clean up will begin as soon as possible.
“Once it has begun then you can start looking forward.”
She lost “virtually everything” in the storm but was delighted when she found some of her mother’s photos that had survived while picking through the damage.
“That was some good news,” she added.
Mrs Knapp, who’s bungalow was also damaged in the 2007 floods, spent Christmas in Germany on a trip that was already planned and hopes to be back in Walcott for 2014’s festivities.
She said: “It’s going to take while. At the moment we don’t know about the main structure, they’re going to do a survey. At the very least they have got to completely demolish what’s left of the conservatory and all of the inside will have to be re-wired.
“Optimistically I could be back in October, realistically it’s going to be nearer Christmas.
For Bryony Nierop-Reading Christmas and New Year was a “strange” time as she spent it out of her beloved seafront home.
The bungalow she had determinedly clung onto for five years had to be demolished after the storm of December 5 left it dangling perilously over the cliff edge at Happisburgh.
She spent the festive season at a friend’s house but has now returned to her mobile caravan opposite the thin sliver of land where her home used to sit, where she plans to remain for the foreseeable future.
A month on from the floods she said the sad ending to her home had truly sunk in.
The Grandmother-of-seven said: “I had a point after Christmas when I suddenly realised that this wasn’t all make believe and pretend stuff and it actually was real and I had a pretty bad day.
“It was really for the first time coming to terms with it.”
Mrs Nierop-Reading, 68, said she had been in touch with others in Walcott who had lost their homes and like her, they were still reeling from the devastating effects of the tidal surge.
But for now she will be remaining on the coast that she so loves.
“I’m back in my mobile (home) for the time being while I think about what I’m doing,” she added. “I’ve still go the workshop and this is the place I do like to be more than anywhere else.”
For Ray Mooney, the kindness of complete strangers after he lost his Hemsby seafront home has forced him to think twice.
“I keep to myself and, I know it’s probably not a good thing, but I tended to be quite cynical about people,” he said.
“But after what’s happened, I don’t know. Things have changed.”
Mr Mooney, 55, bought his bungalow on The Marrams seven years ago. He had recently refurbished it and was in the process of selling the chalet when the storm hit on December 5, destroying five homes and bringing several others perilously close to the edge.
He was inside when he heard a crack – and watched as the washing machine fell through the floor. He believes a phone call from his brother saved his life as moments after he went to the other side of the room to answer it, the floor gave way.
“In hindsight, I am very lucky,” he said. “I could have been in the sea.”
The day after the storm Mr Mooney was rehomed by Martin Mehmet, who runs the Happy Days chalets in Hemsby’s beach resort.
He is still waiting for his insurance claim to be completed and is not sure if he will stay on the coast, but wherever he goes he will not forget the kindness of his neighbours or strangers who have donated items, left hampers of food and sent cards of goodwill.
“I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped me,” he said.
Meanwhile, the volunteer run Save Hemsby Coastline group continues to raise money for DIY sea defences and lobby government for more support.
A stark reminder of the power of last month’s storm surge can be seen at Salthouse - where a public car park has been buried under several feet of shingle.
The pebbles have come from the shingle bank, which acted as a protective barrier between the sea and the marshland.
But the surging waves that pounded the shore on December 5 have pushed the bank inland and breached it in two places, sparking serious concern among nature lovers.
High tides have been pushing sea water into the fresh water marshes and on Friday morning the water came far enough inland to begin lapping at the coast road.
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which looks after the reserves at Cley and Salthouse, has said it is “extremely concerned” about the breaches and is working with the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England to agree a plan for repairs.
The EA, which is responsible for the defences, said it was closely monitoring the bank, which is expected to repair itself naturally.
A spokesman said the breaches had started to lessen but if there was a significant risk of flooding to people and property it would take action.
The most immediate danger of a tidal surge through the Broads is the threat to fish stocks which spawn the waterways’ £88m-a-year angling economy.
However, a month after the potentially devastating incursion of saline water Environment Agency officials report no sign of significant fish deaths.
An EA spokesman said: “With the help of anglers, we have monitored the Broads and found no long-lasting impacts.”
Officials from the EA, which has a responsibility to protect freshwater fisheries, had sprung into action on the Thursday, ahead of the advancing saline water, by raising a purpose-built barrier at Herbert Woods boatyard on the River Thurne at Potter Heigham.
The barrier provides a refuge area for fish; further shoals of fish were seen on the outside of the barrier and moved from the river into the boatyard on the Friday.
She said: “In excess of 100,000 fish in distress were also seen in the river Chet downstream of Chedgrave Mill and pumps were deployed to transfer freshwater from upstream into the affected stretch.”
Wildlife lovers have donated more than £50,000 to repair two West Norfolk bird reserves damaged in the floods.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) launched a £300,000 appeal after the storm surge damaged its flagship Snettisham and Titchwell reserves.
Snettisham was worst hit, with hides blown down and pits flooded by the sea. Hides, a boardwalk and flood defences were also damaged at Titchwell.
RSPB visitor officer Pernille Egeberg said the charity could still not be sure exactly how much money would be needed because workers had been unable to reach parts of the site to assess the damage.
“We can’t get heavy machinery down to get the water pumped out of the pits, we’re still not in a position to do that,” she said.
Miss Egeberg said parts of the site were unrecognisable from before. While the RSPB’s insurance covers some of the cost of repairing hides, it does not cover restoring habitats.
“We are surprised at the generosity of people,” she added. “It shows people really care about these sites and how valuable they are.”
Parts of both reserves have now re-opened. Vehicle access has been closed at Snettisham, but visitors can walk to the Rotary Hide via the fishing lakes at Shepherd’s Port.
Repairs to the sea bank and boardwalk are under way at Titchwell, which the RSPB says came within “millimetres” of flooding.
Re-modelled defences installed in 2010, where outlying areas were allowed to revert to salt marsh to form a natural barrier, helped keep the tides at bay.
Miss Egeberg said RSPB volunteers would begin clearing debris from the beach beside the reserve tomorrow.
“A lot of stuff has obviously been washed in,” she said. “We have had lots and lots of empty plastic cannisters, someone found some Polish shampoo, someone found a message in a bottle saying if you find this send me an e-mail - we haven’t heard back yet.
“We’ve had a lot of waste material, all sorts of things, but mainly plastic cannisters.”
Anyone who would like to donate should visit the website www.rspb.org.uk/stormappeal