Staff at Hunstanton’s Sea Life Sanctuary worked round the clock to save thousands of creatures following Thursday’s tidal surge, while a town businessman described it as the worst flooding he had ever seen.
More than 20 fish are known to have died after power to vital life support systems was lost during the storm.
But more than 3,000 fish, seals, penguins and other sea creatures have now been moved into temporary homes across the country.
Nigel Croasdale, the sanctuary’s general manager, said yesterday the majority of the animals which perished were either old or small fish that were less able to cope with the sudden drop in temperature .
He added: “The staff are sad and upset about each and every one of them, but also relieved that we managed to save the vast majority of our residents.”
The sea breached defences on the promenade just after 7pm on Thursday, 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 others being transported to the Sea Life Sanctuary in Great Yarmouth.
Marine experts from across the country were brought in to assist with the rescue operation. The final evacuees, a group of seals and otters, were taken to a temporary home in Scarborough over the weekend.
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.”
He also paid tribute to the support shown by local people, adding: “It was a fantastic team effort, and the spirits of everyone involved were buoyed by the incredible support we received from the community. People were turning up bringing flasks of tea and coffee and sandwiches and offering to help.”
He said the centre would be “closed indefinitely” while the devastation caused by the water is assessed and repaired. It is thought that the surge caused serious structural damage to the building. Work to dry and repair the site is likely to take several weeks.