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Flood defences tested by biggest tidal surge for 60 years

The Army this week was called in to help Environment Agency engineers repair coastal infrastructure damaged by the UK’s most serious tidal surge in 60 years.

More than 1,400 properties were flooded across the UK as sea levels rose higher in some places than during the floods of January 1953. Some 2,800km of flood defences along the English coast were tested.

Roads and railway lines were closed by debris from the storm, while flood defences were also damaged.

Agencies across the UK geared up for the tidal surge throughout Thursday 5 December and 57 severe flood warnings were in force across England and Wales with 23 more across Scotland. Severe flood warnings warn of immediate threat to life.

The Environment Agency said its staff and contractors would remain out on the ground this week to inspect and repair damaged sections of walls, banks and other assets.

“These teams have received military support for the most urgent repairs,” it said in a statement.

The sea wall in Lowestoft in Suffolk was the biggest piece of infrastructure damaged in the storm surge.

Suffolk Coastal District Council coast futures officer Bill Parker said the surge showed why it was important to maintain defence structures. “This will happen again and we have to maintain the existing defences as well as planning very carefully for the future in terms of where we invest,” he said.

Parker called for an end to the cycle of developing property where sea defences were strengthened. “In some places we may have to say ‘this is not the way forward’,” he warned.

Engineers also worked overnight on 5 December to fix a damaged flood defence in Lincolnshire.

The Agency’s workers made temporary repairs to a damaged wall in Boston as the East Coast was battered by waves.

Elsewhere, more than 1,000t of sea wall had to removed from a stretch of railway in North Wales.

Network Rail engineers used three heavy excavators after 200m of the coastal defence collapsed at Mostyn during the storm surge. The collapse caused the closure of track between Chester and Rhyl.

Trains were also unable to operate between Llandudno Junction and Llanrwst due to major flood damage. The line is unlikely to reopen before 12 December, Network Rail said.

The track operator said “hundreds of engineers” had been working against the conditions to reopen lines closed by fallen debris. Trees, hay bales and even garden trampolines had made tracks unusable as storms battered the UK.

On the roads, the A12 was closed at Blythburgh in Suffolk on Friday due to the flooding.

The road, which links Lowestoft with Ipswich, was shut to traffic all day on 5 December. Several smaller roads in the county were affected by floods.

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