An unfortunate coincidence of date

With just 365 (or so) days in any given year, the probability of two similar things happening on the same date is perhaps not so great.

But, as this screengrab from the BBC’s On This Day archive feature shows, sometimes a kind of reverse serendipity can be at work, where tragic events from the past are echoed by unfortunate events from the present:

BBC On This Day August 16 2008

The Lynmouth floods of 1952 occurred when heavy storms over the highest part of Exmoor in north Devon sent a torrent of water and debris down on the little seaside village. 34 people were killed, 420 made homeless and more than 100 buildings damaged or destroyed.

Exactly 52 years later the villages of Boscastle and Crackington Haven, roughly 70 miles away on the north Cornish coast, suffered a similar phenomenon. Once again the sea-level settlements were the subject of extreme flooding after heavy rain on the high moorland above them became saturated with water. And once again debris swept down with the flooding contributed to the severity of the situation.

In Boscastle, amazingly, no major injuries or deaths resulted from the flooding although the material devastation to the village was extensive. In all other respects the incident was remarkably similar to the Lynmouth floods.

The entire north Devon and north Cornwall coast is populated with little villages at the bottom of big hills with moorland at the top and streams or rivers with valleys running down to the sea that, more often than not, run straight through the centre (stand out on the harbour wall at St Ives for an instructive view of this very phenomenon).

And it’s possible to see that a storm at the height of summer, with the associated rapid and heavy rainfall, is a seasonal phenomenon that would have contributed to both these events. It’s also true that the way we perceive coincidence does mean that we tend to give its influence in our affairs undue weight.

But, for those people who remembered the Lynmouth disaster and its effects, seeing a similar thing happen to the residents of Boscastle on the anniversary cannot have been easy.