LONDON — The sand — some 65 million cubic feet of it — was brought in last summer to defend the seaside villages of Walcott and Bacton from the devastating floods that regularly hit eastern England.
When a powerful storm swept across the region over the weekend, the water was kept at bay. The sand, not so much.
When the winds died down and the rains subsided, residents emerged to find cars engulfed by what looked like brown snow drifts. Roads and street markers were covered by a blanket of beige. Belongings picked up by the 70 mile-per-hour winds had been tossed from one backyard to another before being buried.
But many said it could have been worse.
“We’ve got tons of sand, but we prefer sand castles over flooded carpets,” said Sheila Mason, a Walcott resident whose fence was damaged and garden covered with sand.
The high winds damaged power lines, destroyed crops and sank ships. There were no reports of casualties. But the cleanup efforts are expected to take several days, and the authorities said it would take more time to fully assess the damage.
The storms come as the steady erosion of beaches and rising sea levels caused by climate change now threaten hundreds of miles of coastline along the eastern edge of England.
The communities of Walcott and Bacton, each with less than 2,000 residents, are now starting to experience what climate scientists say will become increasingly common for residents of low-lying coastal areas. Some 150 million people around the world are currently living on land that could be below the high-tide line by 2050.
In Europe, coastal communities have tried to tackle erosion by erecting sea walls, elevating infrastructure, or fortifying seafronts with sand as Norfolk has done.
To protect tens of millions of people threatened by the rising waters of the North Sea, scientists have proposed enclosing the sea by building two dams — one stretching some 300 miles from the coast of Scotland to Norway and the other, roughly 100 miles long, rising between northern France and southeastern England.
In the meantime, communities are doing what they can to protect themselves and vital infrastructure.
In Norfolk, the Bacton Gas Terminal, which provides one-third of Britain’s gas supply, has been under increasing threat from coastal erosion. It is now perched precariously on a cliff above the sea.
The decision to inject sand across three miles of coastline last summer was driven in large part by the need to protect the facility. The sand, it was hoped, would also help protect local communities from increasingly severe floods, like one in 2013 in which tidal surges destroyed houses and submerged whole neighborhoods.
“If the scheme had not been implemented, I have no doubt there would have been overtopping of the defenses and subsequent flooding,” Rob Goodliffe, a coastal manager at the North Norfolk District Council, said in a statement about the storms.
But some residents say the damage from the sandstorm is not as bad as the flooding it was designed to prevent.
“There’s a sense within the community that, ‘Oh, this will happen to us again,’” said Mark Wright, a community organizer better known locally as Bell. “But I would take the sand over the water any day, because without the sand, we would be under water today.”