Thousands of people are being urged to leave their homes in an Essex village as the UK continues to endure a battering from gales, rain and snow.
The evacuation of the village of Jaywick, near Clacton-on-Sea, began this morning as three severe flood warnings - which warn of a danger to life - are in place for Friday lunchtime in coastal areas of the county.
Essex Police Chief Inspector Russ Cole said: “I need residents in Jaywick, Mistley and West Mersea to comply with police instruction and evacuate immediately. Latest forecasting tells us that risk has moved to the next high tide expected just after midnight. That threat has led to a severe flood warning being put in place for tonight’s high tide.”
“Keeping people safe is our only priority and we will be evacuating residents from Jaywick, Mistley and West Mersea and need people to comply with our instructions. That evacuation is most safely executed in daylight hours. We are activating our evacuation plans and are working closely with other partners including the other emergency services, local authorities, health and social care.”
At the time of writing, the Environment Agency had 175 flood warnings in place, including 13 severe warnings, which denote a danger to life, in place for the east coast of England and one in Somerset.
A letter was distributed to residents saying that if they decide to remain in their homes, there is a “high risk” their properties “could be flooded by sea water up to a depth of three metres”, the Press Association reported.
“If flooding does occur then it is anticipated the emergency services will be stretched to their capacity and may not be able to undertake emergency rescue until the flood water has subsided,” it added.
It is understood that some people have already left Jaywick, some continued to refuse to move.
Police are thought to be using a colour coded system to identify those staying put and those who may be vulnerable, so that if flooding occurs they can prioritise who to help.
The biggest threat to the coast is a storm surge - a change in sea level caused by a storm - caused by high winds.
Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency (EA), BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he did not think this storm surge would be as dangerous as the east coast floods of 1953, which killed 307 people in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
However, he did warn that storm surges were difficult to predict.
He said the EA was expecting some damage to permanent flood defences, adding: “What an east coast storm stage can do is it can both damage property with very violent waves and it can also cause flooding if it breaks through flood defences on the coast.”
Pete, 42, a man who has lived in Jaywick for nine years, said he thought the flooding “will be worse than two years ago”.
Quizzed about his thoughts on the expected deluge of sea water, he said: “You get used to it, that is what everyone will say around here. It is part of living by the coast.”
A seafront resident said she would be staying put “unless things get drastically worse”.
Asked why, Rebecca Kenny, 31, said: “I have animals, I also have a big fear of crime.
“Unfortunately Clacton and Jaywick have a high crime rate and recently it’s been ridiculously bad for burglaries and I think it would be rich pickings for someone prepared to look around and see who’s there and who isn’t.
“While I know the police are putting on extra patrols, they can’t cover the whole area the whole time.
“With the security risk I don’t really want to leave the house.”
Floods minister Therese Coffey said: “Our absolute priority is protecting lives, homes and businesses from the threat of coastal flooding currently facing the east coast.
“That is why we have soldiers on the ground helping to warn and evacuate people alongside the emergency services and Environment Agency teams, who are putting up temporary defences.
“We’re working closely across government to monitor the situation as it develops and I ask people to check their flood risk, keep a close eye on updates and follow any advice from the Environment Agency and the emergency services.”
On Thursday evening and overnight snow fell in many areas of the country, with even London seeing some flakes.
The Met Office had severe weather warnings in place for snow, ice and wind.
The chief forecasters comments read: “A weather system will run quickly southwards within a strong, cold north to northwesterly airstream bringing a period of heavy snow accompanied very strong winds, giving blizzard conditions in places, particularly for high ground.”
There was travel chaos in many areas, with dozens of flights cancelled at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.
According to the BBC, heavy snow caused a number of roads to be closed in Scotland.
More blizzards are forecast, prompting fears of further problems travelling on Friday.
There are fears that the weather conditions may also badly affect Tube and train services.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “A combination of staffing and maintenance cuts means that rail and Tube services are running on a knife edge at the best of times.
“Any adverse weather conditions are almost guaranteed to tip us over that edge.”