The great North Sea flood that killed 2,500 people

The front of houses ripped off by the waves in Gardenstown, Aberdeenshire, during the storm in 1953. PIC: Contributed.
The front of houses ripped off by the waves in Gardenstown, Aberdeenshire, during the storm in 1953. PIC: Contributed.
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Eleanor Hepburn was just 12 when her father, an Aberdeenshire coastguard, told her over lunch that she was about to see something that she would never see again in her life.

Father was right. It was January 31, 1953 and the storm that was to create the North Sea Flood was well on its way as a deep Atlantic depression moved on its south westerly journey towards gales and high spring tides off the north coast of Scotland.

One of the houses destroyed in the fishing village of Crovie which was virtually abandoned following the 1953 storm. PIC: Gardenstown Heritage Centre.

One of the houses destroyed in the fishing village of Crovie which was virtually abandoned following the 1953 storm. PIC: Gardenstown Heritage Centre.

As the different forces collided, a series of devastating tidal surges followed with more than 2,500 lives claimed in Scotland, England, Belgium and the Netherlands - which was by far the worst hit as waves pounded through defences in low-lying coastal areas.

More than 1,800 people were killed in The Netherlands alone with hundreds more lost at sea.

Memories of that awful, fearful day and night linger on and the storm has been described as the greatest natural disaster to hit Great Britain and The Netherlands during the 20th Century.

Mrs Hepburn can recall watching sheds and garages wash away into the harbour and fronts of houses being removed by the force of the water.

More damage at Pennan. PIC: Gardenstown Heritage  Centre.

More damage at Pennan. PIC: Gardenstown Heritage Centre.

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Less than a mile away, the fishing village of Crovie was effectively abandoned as the slim line of shoreline cottages was battered by mountainous waves during the 17-hour storm.

Mrs Hepburn said: “At that time my father was home at lunchtime the piers were already covered in water and it wasn’t even high tide. Soon there was water everywhere.

“At Gardenstown, sheds and garages were washed away into the harbour and the wood from the boatyard was floating down the street.

More than 1,800 people were killed by the storm in The Netherland as coastal defences were destroyed by the power of the sea. PIC:  AFP PHOTO-/AFP/Getty Images.

More than 1,800 people were killed by the storm in The Netherland as coastal defences were destroyed by the power of the sea. PIC: AFP PHOTO-/AFP/Getty Images.

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“At Crovie, there was no where to run. Most people got out of their back windows and climbed up the brae. The village was never the same after the storm - most people didn’t go back to their homes. They were just left.”

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Crovie had been home to more than 400 people. It is now overwhelmingly made up of holiday homes.

The devastation of the storm and flood was relentless. It claimed the lives of 19 people in Scotland and a further 133 lives on the Stranraer to Larne passenger ferry in what was then Britain’s worst maritime disaster since World War Two.

Damage ran to £50 million at 1953 prices, the equivalent of around £1.2 billion today.

Power stations, gasworks, roads, railways, sewage services and water services were put out of action with the aftermath of the storm long and hard.

At Banff, people were left without heat and sometimes light for several weeks after water entered the gasworks and carried it out to sea.

As winds climbed to 100mph and above, the roof of the Breadalbane Cinema in Wick, Caithness, was ripped off and a waitress at Station Hotel in Elgin escaped with her life after a 15 foot chimney stack fell through the roof into the dining room where she had been setting up for a wedding.

Those who died in Scotland included a forestry worker from Banff whose motorbike was hit by a tree. An elderly man died in Fraserburgh after a large wave knocked him into a wall.

Two fisherman - Harry and Harold Gear - died at sea after sailing out from the North East coast to check their lobster pots.