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here, there and everywhere, tracking down missing people and comforting those who had escaped. I believe he's been spending the night on the island in his presbytery.
"Some Catholics are not accounted for. but then others who have been listed as missing have since turned up safe on the mainland."
On Foulness, another badly flooded part of the Thames Estuary. a Catholic policeman searching for missing people and survivors narrowly escaped with his life. For 36 hours he was isolated in a hut with the rising water lapping in.
His companion was swept away and drowned.
inrushing sea At Clacton-on-Sea, where the bungalow-resort of laywick felt the full fury of the inrushing sea. I spoke to one of the assistant priests, who said: "Local Catholics have suffered. At least one is known to have been lost.
"She's a crippled lady. Miss Miles. who was trapped by the flood and unable to escape. Her body has not yet been recovered.
"There are some 12 Catholic families among the homeless. The pariSh priest, Fr. Wilson, is out at the emergency reception centres in hotels and houses here in Clacton.
"Many people, including Catholics, have decided to stay on in their homes, despite the danger and discomfort."
Here again Catholics were quick to respond to the needs of a grim situation, offering their services and bringing in clothes for refugees. Others have taken in the homeless.
The parish priest of Harwich aad Dovercourt, Fr. John Hayes, counts himself lucky to be alive today.
He was rescued from the upper floor of his house by men of the Royal Navy in the small hours of Sunday morning.
Fr. Hayes is now staying temporarily in the home of Mrs. Cutler, one of his parishioners in Dovercourt, the higher part of the town.
Eight feet of sea water were swilling through his church, school and presbytery early this week. Chairs were floating about, When I called he was out at the local reception centre with parishioners who had suffered the same harsh experience. But his housekeeper gave a graphic description of the period of waiting before help came.
"The water seemed to he rushing through the downstairs rooms," she said. "With Fr. Hayes I stayed upstairs hoping that someone would arrive. Eventually a large rowing boat pulled in, and soon we were being rowed to safety down the main street. "Catholics here are doing all they can to help with relief and salvage work. So far as we know, no Catholics are among the dead, an uncertain number arc homeless, and loss of property is high."
Farther north, at Felixstowe, in the Northampton diocese, Fr. Cyril Benham, parish priest of the Church of St. Felix, told me: "The floods here affected only the lower part of the town. None of my people is lost or missing.
"The warning of danger was given in time, but few people were prepared to move out because they had no alternative accommodation.
"I offered the use of the ball for relief, and we've been trying to help wherever possible. Our few Catholics have been quite prominent in this joint effort of practical charity."
Fr. Benham said that perhaps eight or nine Catholic families had been affected.
Along the Lincolnshire coast, in the Nottingham diocese, the main burden of the big evacuation from the stricken coastal town of Mablethorpe has fallen on Louth and Alford, two small places inland. Catholics in these parts arc roughly only one per cent. of the population, but Fr. W. P. McEnery, parish priest of St. Mary's, Louth, went to Mablethorpe on Tuesday to see the situation for himself.
At Walsingham, in Norfolk, Fr. Gerard Huline, travelling missioner of the Northampton diocese, said on Wednesday: "I wished I'd had an amphibian vehicle on Sunday travelhog down roads that were like small lakes.
ilbury cut off
"Catholics have not suffered either in Walsingharn or Wells. It's been much worse at Hunstanton, Lynn and Saltash, but our people are unlikely to be affected: there are too few of them.
"A tree which was blown down in the gale might have done some damage to the Slipper Chapel, but it fell clear."
Undoubtedly the worst affected Thames-side town is Tilbury, where at least half the population have had to be evacuated from their homes. It was impossible to get through direct to Fr. Byrne at his presbytery in the dock area, but I learnt something of the position at second hand from Canon Booker at near-by Grays.
"It really is very grim indeed down there," said Canon Booker. "The parish priest is holding on, but normal life seems to have been more or less paralysed.
"Hundreds of our people are both out of work—because the docks are partly under water—and out of their homes.
"We can't find out clearly what's happened because we can't reach Tilbury either by road or telephone. But Fr. Finnegan, the assistant priest, has managed to come up to Chadwell St. Mary's, where an emergency reception centre has been prganised for the homeless.
"I think it will be weeks before things return to normal and we're able to estimate the losses suffered."
South of the Thames. along the coast of Kent, Catholics were spared the worst of the floods in the Margate, Ramsgate and Thanet district. I was told by three different priests in this region: "We're higher up, and so we've got off lightly. But it's been bad at Whitstable."
Whitstable was one of the score or so telephone exchanges which had been put out of action, and it was impossible to discover how Catholics there had fared. And it was the same story in stricken Sheerness.
Built by monks Most of the building workers engaged on the construction of the great oil refinery on the Isle of Grain, Kent, had to be switched on to repairing and strengthening the defences when the sea swept into the site.
Thousands of Irish and other Catholics are employed on the job. Many of them, particularly those from Ireland, live in hutments on the site. Some of the buildings were seriously damaged, but there was no loss of life.
For centuries the isle was the property of the Archbishops of Canterbury and its defences, which until now have kept the sea at bay, were built by medieval monks.
By Tuesday the Benfteet branch of the Catholic Women's League had begun relief work among flood refugees from Canvey Island. Mrs. Glazebrook, the secretary, helped by the Hon. Mrs. Douglas Woodruff, had organised supplies of blankets and clothing for the afflicted and were helping at the South Benfleet Primary School. one of the main emergency relief centres for the area.
London's East End — notably around the tidal basin of the Thames at Custom House and Canning Town —was slightly affected by the swollen river. Several Catholic families had to leave their homes as furniture floated in 4 ft. of water in downstairs rooms.
At Millwall, Isle of Dogs, the parish priest, hr. Vincent Rochford, said: "I had a small river outside the front door, and some of my people suffered damage to their belongings from oil in the floodwater. But no family has had to evacuate."
Catholics in Mablethorpe, one of the worst-hit towns, have been doing their full share of relief work. The Town Clerk, Mr. Chenery, and the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kerrigan, are both Catholics, "and both," said Fr. McEnery, "have done an absolutely marvellous job."
"Our Catholics," Fr. McEnery told me, "have worked in conjunction with the official relief scheme. A high proportion of our small community are in the St. John Ambulance Brigade and the Red Cross, and have therefore been in the thick of it."
Fr. MeEnery himself has been helping with relief and driving evacuees to safe areas.
The church, he has now discovered, is not so badly damaged as was at first feared.