Tidal surge: Evacuees gather in Essex school

The BBC's Nick Beake spoke to people in Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, who evacuated their homes overnight

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For Essex pensioners Joan Claydon and Irene Heath, the staffroom of a local secondary school became home for the night.

The rigid chairs and thin blankets hardly made for the most comfortable of sleeps, but they were not complaining.

"It's been marvellous," said Joan. "Under the circumstances, we've been treated very, very well.

"I was a very nervous woman when I came in here, wondering what was going to happen out there with my bungalow. But I've been reassured."

In all, more than 400 people who had been evacuated from the coastal resort of Jaywick tried to get 40 winks among the wall displays and whiteboards.

Tea and sandwiches

Shane Hailey and his wife Amanda arrived at Clacton County High School at about midnight on Thursday.

They had not travelled light and they had also brought their three dogs Willow, Bruno and Chance.

inside a rescue centre People in Jaywick sheltered at rescue centres, including this one in Clacton

Animals were not allowed inside the evacuation centre, so there was a chilly wait outside for several hours before the dogs were found kennels for the night.

'I'm very scared'

Throughout the hours of darkness, Tendring District Council workers - assisted by the Red Cross - looked after the evacuees, supplying them with tea and bacon sandwiches from the school canteen.

There was a sense of solidarity as the older contingent exchanged stories about the great storm of 1953, which ravaged the east coast of England.

People on chairs in blankets with dogs Those with pets had to stay outside the shelters until the animals could be accommodated elsewhere.

A few miles away in Jaywick, the waves had already began pummelling the sea defences just metres from houses.

Start Quote

The defences have done their job... this would've been over the top now, right across Jaywick in the 50s.”

End Quote Jim Benson

Many were holiday homes built in the 1950s and not necessarily designed to last.

Around 02:00 GMT, high tide came. We witnessed the nervousness as the water began splashing over the sea wall.

With his fleece zipped right up to his neck, Jim Benson shook his head as the waves came crashing in.

"I'm very scared at the moment," he said.

"I've never seen it come this high, it's never been this high. But we've got a little bit of a barricade just behind here, it's got to come up another metre."

With his house a stone's throw from nature's clutches, Jim was hoping the storm defences would prevent a repeat of previous flooding here.

And as the minutes ticked by, the head-shaking gave way to a contented nod.

"The defences have done their job... this would've been over the top now, right across Jaywick in the 50s. This wall has held."

The emergency services had advised residents in 2,500 homes here to leave.

car park in Brightlingsea The seafront at Brightlingsea was flooded, with water gushing into streets and car parks

While many did just that others - like Jane Nash - did not move an inch.

For hours, she spied the tide rising, illuminated by a dazzling display of Christmas lights on the front of her house.

Tucked up inside, oblivious to the danger were her four grandchildren.

In the end, people's worst fears were not released and Jaywick fared much better than other spots along the east coast.

By 02:30 GMT, the curious crowds had faded away and, aside from a few nocturnal dog walkers and the occasional burst from a police officer's torch, a relative calm returned.

Despite that severe weather warning, it seemed they had got away with it here.

They hoped that luck would continue when the next two high tides arrived.

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