Staff at Hunstanton’s Sea Life Sanctuary worked round the clock to save more than 1,000 creatures, as a businessman tells of the worst flooding he has ever seen.
Nigel Croasdale, the sanctuary’s general manager, said staff worked through the night to evacuate fish and other animals after power to their vital life support systems was lost during the storm.
And he said the centre would now be “closed indefinitely” while the devastation caused by the water is assessed and repaired.
Meanwhile, John Cook, 54,of Seagate Road, Hunstanton, who has been involved with fairground on the seafront for 45 years, told how he “panicked” when he saw the waves come crashing over the sea defences.
He said: “I was shocked at the speed the water was coming in. It was frightening. I’m normally a laid-back kind of man but I panicked. I phoned my wife who was at home and said ‘get out, get out’. It was going so fast I thought it was going to flood my home.
“I’ve been here ever since I was nine-years-old and I’ve never known anything like it.”
Mr Cook, who operates several rides on the Rainbow Amusement Park with wife Deborah, will have to wait for his rides to dry out before he can assess the extent of the damage – but estimates thousands of pounds worth of damage.
The sea breached defences on the promenade just after 7pm last night, as homeowners and business owners looked on helplessly.
Mr Croasdale said staff were forced to leave the centre and watch from a distance, but went back in as soon as the tide started to abate at around midnight.
Firefighters were called to start pumping water out of the building, and specialist transport vehicles were sent from the Sea Life’s Dorset headquarters to provide emergency back-up, as the operation to evacuate the creatures began.
Around half the animals were taken to facilities in Weymouth, Dorset, with the rest being transported to the Sea Life Sanctuary in Great Yarmouth.
The transfer focused on the fish first, followed by other animals such as the otters and penguins. Every animal was due to be moved except the seals, although they were still being assessed this morning to see whether that would remain the case.
Mr Croasdale said: “Our first priority was the welfare of the animals and staff from the animal care team have worked through the night to make sure they are evacuated carefully. I cannot praise them highly enough, and so far their efforts have paid off with not a single fish or other resident lost.
“I would also like to thank the firefighters who worked through the night pumping the water out.”
He added: “Once we have completely evacuated the animals we will then turn our attention to the devastation to the fixtures and fittings of the building. The building took a devastating hit by the flood, and looking at what we have seen so far I imagine we will be closed indefinitely in the short-term. It will be at least a few weeks if not months before we are open again.”
He said updates on when it will re-open will be posted on its website at: www.visitsealife.com/hunstanton
Mr and Mrs Cook, who run the Twister, Waltzer and children’s roundabout on the Rainbow Amusement Park, said they stayed up all night as the flood took hold of their livelihood.
Mrs Cook said: “We couldn’t do anything, but we couldn’t sleep either so we just watched.”
She also hit out at the lack of notice local people were given about the flood warnings.
She said: “When we first heard about the warnings for the East of England, it was all focused on the other side of Norfolk, around Great Yarmouth way.
“The first I knew that it was going to hit here was at 5.30pm when a policeman knocked on my door. There was no offer of help or sandbags or anything, not that they would have made any difference. The ‘big storm’ in October was being rammed down our throats for two weeks about how bad it was going to be, and thankfully it turned out to be hardly anything, but with this we hear nothing.”
David Rimmer, park manager of Triangle Amusements, which owns the fairground land, added: “The force of the water even broke up some of the concrete steps by the (sea defence) wall. It was so powerful, it’s frightening.”