Britain remembers North Sea Flood of 1953

Feb. 1, 2013 at 12:21 AM
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CHELMSFORD, England, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Towns in eastern England held services Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the North Sea Flood of 1953.

The storm, high winds that struck during a high spring tide on the night of Jan. 31, 1953, killed 307 people along the coast. In the Netherlands, where the storm surge broke the dikes, about 1,800 people died.

More than 300 people were killed on boats that went down, including 130 on a ferry between Scotland and Northern Ireland that sank near Belfast.

Princess Anne joined survivors of the flood for a service at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex. A children's theater group re-enacted the flooding on Canvey Island in the Thames Estuary, where 58 people were killed.

Some survivors from the Netherlands attended the service.

In Hunstanton, a small town on the Norfolk coast, residents honored the memory of Reis Leming, a member of the U.S. Air Force who received the George Medal for rescuing 27 people although he himself could not swim. Leming died in November but his widow, Kathy, who lives in Oregon, and their son and daughter traveled to Hunstanton.

Kathy Leming unveiled a sign for Reis Leming Way.

"It's just amazing to me that this community values him so much," she said. "To me he was just the normal man I lived with for 40 years. But I come here and I see his name everywhere and it is really touching."

Many survivors still have vivid memories of that night. Shirley Orchard, who was at Chelmsford Cathedral, was a 16-year-old helping out her father in his shop on Canvey Island in January 1953.

"We lived across a road which ended in Small Gains Creek where a lot of people lived in houseboats and we could hear them all screaming," she said. "We were lucky to have an upstairs room and were high enough to be above the water."

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