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24 September 2014

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You are in: Devon > Features > Feature Articles > Lynmouth flood disaster

Lynmouth 1952

Lynmouth after the flooding

Lynmouth flood disaster

Thirty-four people lost their lives in the Lynmouth flood disaster in August 1952. More than half a century later, and questions are still being asked about the tragedy.

The worst post-war flooding disaster in Britain took place in the North Devon village of Lynmouth in 1952, in a tragedy which claimed 34 lives.

The flooding occurred on 15 August 1952, after nine inches of rain fell in the space of 24 hours.

The downpour caused a wall of water to surge down from Exmoor onto Lynmouth. The East and West Lyn rivers, which drop down from Exmoor, were swollen even before the storm.

A cat under a fallen tree

Trees came crashing down

Trees were uprooted and formed dams behind bridges, creating walls of water that carried huge boulders into the village.

In all, 34 people in Lynmouth and surrounding hamlets were killed, and 39 buildings collapsed. The army was drafted in to help with the clear-up.

Speculation over the cause of the flooding has raged ever since the tragedy happened.

During August 1952, North Devon experienced 250 times the normal rainfall for the month, and on the day of the disaster, some 90m tonnes of water swept down the narrow valley into Lynmouth.

Among the theories is that the rain was caused by experiments to artificially create rain.

Troops help out

The army was called in to help

In 2001, a BBC investigation discovered that classified documents on the secret experiments have gone missing.

Survivors told how the air smelled of sulphur on the afternoon of the floods, and that the rain was so hard, it hurt people's faces.

The BBC unearthed fresh evidence about the alleged experiment, including RAF logbooks and personal testimony.

The experiment was called 'Operation Cumulus,' but some people taking part dubbed it 'Operation Witch Doctor.'

Alan Yates, who was a glider pilot, told how he flew over Bedfordshire as part of Operation Cumulus, spraying salt into the air. He was later told that there was a devastating downpour in Staines, 50 miles away.

However, the Ministry of Defence says it knows nothing of the so-called 'cloud-seeding' experiments during early August 1952.

More than 50 years on from the disaster, the people of Lynmouth are still waiting for the speculation to be put to rest one way or another.

last updated: 25/01/2008 at 16:52
created: 25/01/2008

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