THE Great Flood of 1953 came in the dead of night and claimed 307 lives on the East coast.

Sea defences were overwhelmed as a storm surge struck the Netherlands, Belgium, England and Scotland late on Saturday, January 31, and the next morning.

It was caused by a combination of a high spring tide, a severe windstorm and low pressure over the North Sea.

The floods came without warning and whole communities were unaware of the imminent threat from the surge. At its peak it was 2.5 metres above the spring tide level.

A total of 35 people died in Jaywick, two in Point Clear, near St Osyth, and a further eight lives were lost in Harwich.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Pictures from the devastating floods which struck the Essex coast in 1953, claiming 104 lives

The north of the district was hit first as the tidal wave of water raced up the River Stour, while much of Harwich was deluged.

Homes in parts of Walton were left under water while every hut on the lower wall in Frinton disappeared and others higher up were badly damaged.

The harbourmaster at Harwich raised the alarm, but police in Walton had little time to warn people before floodwaters started sweeping through the streets.

The worst-hit areas were Saville Street, Stanley Road, Eagle Avenue, North Street, Alfred Terrace, Mill Lane and Churchfield Road.

Properties between Blyth’s Farm and Church Corner, in Kirby Road, were also hit.

High seas drove boats from their moorings and some of the first people to be stranded were those at Walton and Frinton Yacht Club, who had been watching a late film in the clubhouse.

The high tides also brought havoc to Brightlingsea, where the waterfront flooded and hundreds of beach huts were smashed to pieces or washed out to sea.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Disaster - hundreds died on the east coast following flooding on January 31, 1953Disaster - hundreds died on the east coast following flooding on January 31, 1953

Holland-on-Sea and Clacton escaped relatively unscathed but Jaywick bore the brunt of the flooding.

The Jaywick sea defences – dubbed Adrian’s Wall after Jaywick Sands Freeholders’ Association chairman Adrian Wolfe – held firm under the onslaught.

But further to the west the sea defences were not so strong and waves punched through the wall.

A wall of water hurtled from inland at St Osyth marshes towards Jaywick from its defenceless rear, completely cutting off the village. Entire houses were submerged.

The “courageous” PC Don Harmer waded through chin-high water to the sea wall and crawled his way to Clacton to alert the police station of the disaster.

A husband and wife were killed as Point Clear was covered by the waters.

William and Lilian Crosswell lived behind Crosswells stores in Point Clear. Their son lived slightly up the hill.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Rescue - youngsters are carried to safety in HarwichRescue - youngsters are carried to safety in Harwich

As the wall of water crashed into Point Clear, he phoned his elderly parents to warn them of the impending danger.

His father answered and said: “The windows are coming in.”

Lilian then came on the line and begged “Save yourself, son” before the line went dead.

The last person to be rescued alive from the disaster was 65-year-old nursing sister Louise Kemp, who was plucked to safety from her home in Triumph Avenue, Jaywick, after being trapped in her loft for 31 hours.

She might have died, but was saved by pet cat Tiger, who started to paw her as she lay sleeping, unaware of the sea pouring into her home.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: Damage - damage to a house in Harwich's BathsideDamage - damage to a house in Harwich's Bathside

She clambered onto the top of a wardrobe to escape the swirling water. As the water level continued to rise, Louise grabbed a clothes hanger from the wardrobe and managed to smash through the thin ceiling before pushing Tiger into the loft and climbing in herself, wrapped only in a cotton nightdress and sodden blanket.

She stayed there shivering in the dark with no food throughout Sunday, desperately trying to attract rescuers’ attention with a forlorn distress signal made out of a strip of blanket and a cane.

The nurse spent the night huddled in the loft with her cat. But with her strength ebbing away on Monday morning, she saw light filtering through the roof tiles and began to call for help.

“I started whooping and cooeeing like the haunted,” she later told the Gazette, as she lay recovering in Clacton Hospital.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette: High water: People evacuated Harwich by row boat

“Then I saw a hatchet knock through the tiles and the very welcome face of a policeman.”

As she was being carried to safety, she asked: “Where’s Tiger?”

The three-man crew returned for the pet and tied a label around its neck, saying ‘Sister Kemp’s cat’.

In total 121 people died in Essex and more than 24,000 people were left homeless across the region.

Peter Harris, Tendring Council chairman, said: “The devastating 1953 floods really shaped our district – both physically such as with later flood defences, and our psyche – and it is important that we remember that as well as all those who sadly lost their lives.”