SEVENTY years ago a tidal surge came down from the North Sea flooding low-lying lands in its path and claiming 58 lives on Canvey.

An indelible collective scar was left on the island by that traffic night on January 31, 1953. 


As Canvey looks back on the Great Flood, a new commemorative plaque has been placed on the wall outside Canvey Library, alongside the 60th anniversary plaque.

Ray Howard MBE was 11 years old when the flood hit but he remembers that night like it was only yesterday.

Echo: Aerial of flooded CanveyAerial of flooded Canvey (Image: Canvey Island Archives)

“Because my old house had been hit by a bomb in the war we had been moved by the council into one of the new houses in North Avenue and we were fortunate to be upstairs in a two-sotrey building and out of the immediate path of danger,” he said.

“We were evacuated safely by the army and taken to Benfleet but so many poor souls weren’t as fortunate as us. That has always stuck in my mind.”

Echo: On the lookout for survivors On the lookout for survivors (Image: Canvey Island Archive)

He added: “I remember going back to school and seeing empty chairs from friends who had either lost their lives, or lost their parents and moved away.”

The flood, caused by a tidal surge and storms in the North Sea, claimed the lives of 2,500 people in Europe – more than 300 of them in the UK.

Echo: In safe handsIn safe hands (Image: Canvey Island Archives)

In the Netherlands, where the disaster is known as “Watersnoodramp”, 1,800 lives were lost and 10 per cent of the country’s entire farmland was flooded.

Alan Johnson, aged 10 at the time, lived in a bungalow in Rainbow Avenue at the time of the floods along with his mum, dad, brother and sister.

“The night of the floods I was coming home from a friend’s birthday party and remember it being bitterly cold with a biting North wind blowing,” he recalled in testimony saved in the Canvey Archives.

“We had all gone to bed and it was some time in the early hours when my brother and I were woken up by our father, who told us to get up and get dressed. We stepped out of bed into about six inches of water which was freezing cold. The water was rising at a rapid pace, it was as if we were taking part in some bad dream. 

“It was very eerie and frightening with the sound of rushing water and people calling out for