Friday 1 February 2013

Norfolk's Perfect Storm

Reis Leming

Photo of Reis Leming courtesy 

Twenty-two year old American serviceman Reis Leming was stationed at Sculthorpe, England when it hit.  Considered Britain's worst peacetime disaster of the 20th Century, the perfect storm hit on the night of January 31 and by the morning of February 1, over 300 people were dead.

An average storm started in the middle of the Atlantic.  The storm's intensity peaked as winds hit 100 mph.  At high tide waves reached heights of 18 feet, driving along the North Sea coast.  Hurricane-like gales pounded water against the coastal towns of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex counties.  Prefabricated wooden homes built after the war were crushed like toothpicks or carried away by the flooding.

Serviceman Reis Leming jumped into a rubber raft to look for survivors in the town of Hunstanton.  The powerful wind blowing in his face, the bitter cold numbing his fingers and toes, the pitch darkness hampering his efforts, he listened to the screams of people trapped in their homes as he floated down South Beach Road.  One by one, he brought refugees to safety on his raft, including a family with two young girls and an infant boy.

Fighting the elements and fatigue,  Mr. Leming feared that he might not survive and finally he collapsed from exhaustion.  He was taken to the hospital where a nurse shouted:  "Cut off his legs!"  Petrified that he was going to lose his limbs, it turned out she was directing others to cut off the legs of his survival suit to massage his legs.

On the morning of February 1, Queen Elizabeth arrived from her nearby Sandringham Estate to survey the flood damage and build the morale of the survivors.  Three hundred thousand Brits were rendered homeless as a result of the disaster.  Three hundred were killed.  Reis Leming received the George Medal for his heroism, one of five individuals to receive the medal that day.

Note:  For more information on the North Sea Flood, read about the "Watersnoodramp", the same storm that killed over 1800 people in the Netherlands.

1953 floods in Hunstanton

Image courtesy

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